SHHM Guest: Ana Canino-Fluit

Hi friends! I’ve fallen behind again, but today I’m here! With another guest celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Whee! Everyone – I hope you chime in. I’m grateful for all of you <3 (and for copy + paste)! Please give Ana a very warm welcome!

Reading while Latina by Ana Canino-Fluit

I am Latina romance reader and reviewer. Born and raised in Puerto Rico I have now lived nearly half of my life in the US Mainland and Canada. I have inter-married like so many Hispanics do, and I am raising my daughters to appreciate their multi-cultural (Dutch-Canadian & Puerto Rican) heritage. I am school librarian and I read and review romance as hobby. I read nearly all the romance sub-genres, everything from historical to science-fiction, although I tend to steer clear of inspirational and westerns. Romance like the rest of mainstream literature can be overwhelmingly white and while I am always thrilled to discover Hispanic authors and characters when selecting books to read I don’t limit myself to reading books written from a Hispanic point of view. But I do find myself looking for certain tropes, and story elements that in some way resonate with my experience of being a Latina. The particular tropes and story elements that appeal to me won’t necessarily appeal to another Latino or Latina whose experiences and background is different from mine but these are the tropes and story elements that I find reflect a bit of my reality.

Knowing the ScoreI love stories of newcomers or new people finding a place to belong in a small town or community. I left Puerto Rico to attend college and I have lived in many places across Canada and the US for work since then, so reading stories about the importance and process of finding supportive friends, and becoming part of a new community appeals to me. Two of my favorite series that return time and time again to the challenges and rewards of finding love, making friends and building relationships with peoples and places are Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family and Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books.

A distinct but related category of these types stories are romances about immigrants & ex-pats. People who not only leave their hometowns or states but are building lives in other countries. I love reading about the adjustments required to live in a different culture, the ideas and traditions we sometimes unconsciously carry from our home cultures and how they complicate our relationships. As someone who has negotiated the sometimes fraught waters of inter-cultural romance I love reading about it. Kat Latham has written a couple of stories with Ex-pats and bi-national couples which I really enjoyed (Knowing the Score & Mine Under the Mistletoe). I loved Mary Ann Rivers’ Live with its homesick Welsh hero, set on going home while slowly falling in love with a girl that has never left home. I also love Laura Florand’s novels, both the Amour et Chocolat and La Vie en Roses series, where the lovers often have to discover all that is lost in translation, the little cultural nuances, mores and cues that can lead to misunderstandings beyond simply not sharing the same first language.

LiveI love stories of misfits and outsiders, people who don’t quite fit in or and are not fully accepted by the culture at large. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, I knew that I didn’t quite fit the idealized Puerto Rican image of beauty, and when I left home as light-skinned Latina, I got and still get lot of comments like “you don’t look Puerto Rican” and those comments are exhausting and wearying as they make you feel not quite right. Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series while first and foremost action packed stories of adventure and love that I fell in love with for their intricate world-building and steam-punky goodness, are also populated with people of color whose lives are complicated by how they look, what their heritage is or they ways their bodies have been modified. Delphine Dryden’s geeky and kinky characters in the Theory of Attraction series are misfits and outsiders of a different sort. I connect with these smart men and women whose differences from those around them might not be readily visible but still set them apart, and make them feel slightly out of sync with the rest of society.

I love strong and complicated family relationships. It is cliché to point out that Hispanics and [email protected] deeply value family, but what is less well understood is how complicated and difficult those extended family relationships can be. Divorce, substance abuse, distance, family expectations and aspirations complicate our families. In Lauren Dane’s books from her Brown Family series and its related novels to her Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction I find depictions of complicated families that are both honest and raw. Her family relationships are rarely straightforward; instead they are often sources of both strength and conflict. I love that she can acknowledge the role of our families of origin play in the families we build and their power to affect our relationships for good or ill. I recently read her novella Sway from the Delicious series, where we see both Daisy Huerta’s loving, healthy yet not idealized Mexican-American family and Levi’s complicated but close-knit WASPY family and how concern and conflict from both sides nearly derailed Daisy and Levi’s love affair.

Bitter SpiritsI love to read stories that assume and portray a multicultural world, which is rarer than you might think. I love books where the communities and groups of friends depicted are not all white and include more than a token person of color. I wish I saw more authors that realized that you can find people of color in all sorts of communities, big, small, urban and rural. I loved how vibrantly diverse Jenn Bennett’s 1920’s San Francisco is in her Bitter Spirits series, and the fact that we see people of color in all sorts roles going about their lives. In contemporary romance I really enjoy Audra North’s books for its everyday inclusion of people of color as main and supporting characters. I know when I read a person of color in her romances, their race isn’t “the issue”, but instead just a part of who they are.

When I was growing up in Puerto Rico it sometimes felt like machismo was the default male philosophy, and culturally we were raised to accept that you could tell the good ones from the bad ones because they listened to their Abuela, watched out for their nieces and sisters and that all the novias & chulitas would be set aside for the right one. Although I never let myself date a Machista or ever wanted a real live rake I still have a soft spot for stories of reformed rakes, of big strong men who know they are beat when they face a fierce grand-aunt like Lady Osbaldestone and are drawn to strong bossy women who don’t simply sit waiting to be rescued. I found my fix for this trope in the dozens of Stephanie Laurens Cynster series and Nalini Singh Psy-changeling novels which I binged on when I first found romance novels.

The Lotus PalaceOne of the most enduring telenovela tropes is that off a cross-class/Cinderella romance. In the telenovelas I watched as a child some rich guy was always falling for some girl from the wrong side of the tracks (who often conveniently was some of other rich guy’s secret baby…but that is another story). As a result of prolonged and sustained exposure to this trope, I have become very picky about the kind of cross-class romances I can enjoy. Unlike the telenovelas I watched as kid I want authors to address the real obstacles and sacrifices involved in those kinds of relationships. Two of my favorites are Jeannie Lin’s Lotus Palace, whose portrayal of deep family bonds, loyalty and sacrifice lend weight to Bai Huang and Yue-ying love and Cecilia Grant’s A Gentleman Undone, where Will and Lydia’s love is truly costly to them, costing them financially, in social esteem and even family contact.

The un-employment rate in Puerto Rico has been very high for a very long time, so my whole life my parents have the stressed the importance of education and work-ethic to the point that I didn’t realize that till I was in college that many people did not in fact go on to get a college education, but in my life it simply wasn’t optional. I was taught to value and respect those who humbly worked hard jobs to provide for their families and to provide opportunities for paid for work for others whenever possible. I look at my family, at my grandmothers who both worked and managed business. My great-grandparents who farmed and ran a bakery and as result I rarely feel a romance is complete if it doesn’t address the significance and value of work or the impact of struggling to make ends meet. I find myself deeply drawn both to stories where characters have to negotiate work-life balance because the characters love their work, are so good at it that it can easily consume them, like Julie James’ FBI series novels and Emma Barry’s Easy Part series and to novels where characters work hard in less than glamorous settings (Cara McKenna’s After Hours and Hard Time), where work is not identity but necessity.

After HoursThis is just a small part of the tropes and story elements I enjoy, as I haven’t mentioned some of my favorite writers and books, but their appeal to me is not something I can easily tie back to my Latina experience but are instead things I like simply because of all the other things that form who I am beyond my race, like my love-hate relationship with librarian romances and my aversion to billionaires. What are the tropes and story elements that connect the most deeply with you? I would love to hear your recommendations of books that fit some of these tropes and elements and I haven’t discovered yet. You can find me on twitter as @anacoqui and find my reviews on my blog.

So – what are your thoughts?! Chime in! (And have you read any of these books?)

14 thoughts on “SHHM Guest: Ana Canino-Fluit

  1. katje

    I love this post and how you’ve interwoven authors/stories that you like with why it appeals to you as a person with your particular background and experiences.

    I adore Laura Florand and Nalini Singh — I will have to try some of the other authors you mentioned!

    Speaking as a Chinese woman, it is often difficult to find books with Chinese heroines, especially since I despise the more “literary” type of Pearl S Buck story and I tend to dislike the ones that are all about “fresh off the boat” drama or the “torn between two cultures / rebelling / ashamed of parents” angst.

    Our problems/issues are myriad and complex. I wish that people would focus on what it means to be Asian American in 2014 instead of clinging to the old tropes.

    I say this all because even if I didn’t love Laura before, I would have adored her for her portrayal of Sarah Lin.

    Reply
  2. dholcomb1

    I love regency books, other historical romance, montana cowboys, firemen, most any romance. my favorite trope is enemies-to-lovers, but I like most tropes. I just want a well-written story.

    most of the Latino-Hispanic fiction I have read is literary. I have noticed they are starting to be represented in mainstream romance now. Baby steps, I guess.

    Reply
    1. Ana Canino Fluit (@anacoqui)

      dholcomb1,

      I’ve read lots of Hispanic lit fic too, Allende, Garcia Marquez & Esmeralda Santiago. But in preparing to write this post I did discover that in 1990’s a few companies tried doing Hispanic lines, but they struggled to find wider audience. I personally prefer continuing to infiltrate mainstream books.

      Reply
  3. Ana Canino Fluit (@anacoqui)

    Katje,

    Yes! I can totally understand your frustration. There are more stories that can be told! I think you should check out Audra North. She is of mixed-Chinese descent herself and writes great people of color, but I don’t know if she has done a Chinese American yet.

    Reply
  4. Figserello

    Fascinating! I’ve no interest in the Romance genre at all, but found this very interesting. (Are romance Westerns a large subgenre? News to me!). Sometimes when we sit down to read a book, it reads us, if you see what I mean, and you go into that aspect very well here.

    Like you I’m happy that my children can benefit from two cultures to draw from and to ‘compare and contrast’.

    Like you, my background strongly affects how and what I read without meaning that I only enjoy books about Irish people and situations. Any underdog fighting the system story will do me!

    Loved all that stuff about the ‘machismo’ aspects of hispanic culture. What I could understand of it!

    Has Katje read American Born Chinese? Wonderful graphic novel.

    Reply
    1. anacoqui

      Hey Figs! Westerns are certainly more popular in Romance than in Comics. Lots of books set in the modern west, with Cowboys and Ranchers and a fair number of historicals set in the American Old West. I did really enjoy one I read earlier this year by Edie Harris ‘s Wild Burn ( http://winterfell.blogs.com/immersedreader/2014/02/returning-to-historical-romance-countess-conspiracy-no-good-duke-goes-unpunished-and-wild-burn.html ) a post-Civil War western. The Heroine is a Irish ex-nun who lost her faith and vocation after a brutal assault and is now a teacher. The Hero is former Conferderate soldier who hunts down Cheyennes outlaws for the U.S. Gov. They end up uncovering a plot to exterminate the local tribes living peacefully in a nearby reservation. Great conflicts & well-researched and it doesn’t flinch from the ugly history of American Western expansion.

      I need to read American Born Chinese. I’ve also read great reviews for his new books Shadow Hero.

      Reply
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  6. Christine Maria Rose

    Wow, our tastes are really similar! I’ve read most of the books you’ve mentioned above or in some cases different ones by the same authors (Laura Florand is definitely among my favourites for her use of all the senses in her writing). I also find that Molly O’Keefe writes really interesting stories with complicated characters and family dynamics, in particular in her most recent series (the Boys of Bishop).

    Reply
    1. Ana Canino Fluit (@anacoqui)

      Christine,
      I recently read my first O’keefe. I really loved Between the Sheets. I had previously tried and quit several of her books because of their high-conflict beginnings (Can’t Buy Me Love, & Wild Child). After Between the Sheets and her short-story in Summer Rain I feel I finally got her, and I will be making the effort to read more. Love Shelby and Ty’s complicated views on faith.

      Reply
      1. Christine Maria Rose

        I hope you give Never Been Kissed a try, it’s my favourite of the Boys of Bishop series. Indecent Proposal was also very good but definitely more conflict and hot/cold relationship in that one.

        Reply
  7. fionamcgier

    I wrote a series of books about the Reyes Family Romances. I set out to write just one book, and all of the relatives who were secondary or bit players in that book demanded that I write their romances also. There are 6 books to date, with one of them a free download on Smashwords.com. I write inter-racial romances, and family is always an important part of things, because loving your family is how you learn to love yourself and to share yourself with others.

    Side note: my dad was from Scotland, and my mom’s parents were both Polish, and met here in Chicago. My Busia never learned English, so it was hard to have a grandmotherly relationship since we couldn’t communicate except with smiles and hugs. My mom was 8 of 10 kids. The immigrant experience of large closely-knit families and ardent passions is one I’m really familiar with. Some readers have told me they laughed or cried along with my characters. I did when I wrote them also.

    Reply
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