Cynthia Leonor Garza and her three brothers grew up in the South of Texas. A journalist, Cynthia Leonor is a former staff writer for the Houston Chronicle and her essays and commentaries have appeared in The Atlantic and on NPR. She lived in Washington, DC for many years and her two daughters, ages five and eight, were born there before the family moved to Nairobi. She enjoys reading books across genres—picture books, fiction, short stories, essays, non-fiction, young adult, cooking or like she said, “me leo todo,” depending on her mood or the year. This year she really enjoyed reading the very funny Samantha Irby’s essay collection “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.” One of her favorite authors is Junot Díaz whom she was lucky enough to do a writers workshop with a few years ago. Cynthia Leonor’s first book, Lucia The Luchadora has been selected as one of NPR’s Best Book 2017, Kirkus Best Book 2017 and Chicago Public Library’s Best Picture Book 2017.

MB: You were born in Texas, so you are really American. Where are your Latina roots from?

CG: I grew up on the border in South Texas, where my family has lived for many generations. I feel lucky to have grown up amid two cultures, sometimes not knowing where one started and the other one ended. The border is often characterized as this line between two places, but really, it’s a place of unification with bridges that carry us back and forth. I live in Kenya now, and it’s been interesting reconciling how others see me. Hands down, I’m seen as an American. When I try to explain I’m Latina, it’s like okay, but you’re still American.

MB: Your writings have been featured in many publications including the Houston Chronicle and now you are a book author. I love the title of your book. Can you tell us about “Lucía The Luchadora?”

CG: I’m a journalist who came to writing picture books after my first daughter was born. I was very enthusiastic about reading to her in Spanish, but I realized most of the books I was finding were just translations and not stories that reflected who we are as a family, as Latinos. When I had the idea to write a story about a little girl who wants to be a superhero, I knew immediately she would be a “luchadora”, a warrior. Creating a lucha libre-superhero story was my way of  bridging the two worlds I grew up in. It felt totally natural to me, because in my world, that is what would happen.

MB: You and your family are now living in Kenya, what is a Latina doing in the opposite side of the world?

CG: Sometimes, I feel like I am in Latin America. Even when I turn on the television, there are so many telenovelas dubbed in Swahili and English! There is absolutely a strong connection between the two places that I had never really considered before I moved here.

MB: Is your writing now inspired and influenced by your new home?

CG: I’ve actually been amazed by the diversity within Kenya, and I especially have fallen in love with the East Africa coast and its distinct Swahili culture, a blend of African and Arab roots. I think it’s because I grew up along the border that I find a lot of comfort in blended worlds.I have not written anything about living here … yet. There is so much to take in and process, but I will one day, I’m sure.

MB: Being in a place that is not known to have a large concentration of Hispanics, how do you preserve the language, the customs, your Latinidad?  Are you children bilingual?

CG: My husband, Eyder Peralta, is the East Africa bureau chief for NPR, which is what brought our family to Nairobi. He is Nicaraguan, by way of Miami, and I am Mexican-American by way of Texas, so even though we are both Latino and bound by a common language, we have very distinct cultural traditions and history. Previously, my daughters were in a Mandarin immersion school in Washington, D.C. and I’ve tried my best to get them to learn some Spanish, but more than language my hope has always been that they have a strong sense of their bicultural identity as American Latinas. And I think they do, but they are also soaking in the culture and language here in East Africa. Their experience of growing up is so different from mine or my husband’s, and I’m truly thankful we are able to show them the world. Ultimately, it’ll be up to them to figure out their place in it.

MB: Any advice for parents like you that are raising children far away from their roots but that want to expose to them to their native culture as much as possible?

CG: I cannot live without Mexican food or tacos, so I cook a lot. I’ve brought lots of spices from home and Maseca, YES, heavy, bulky bags of Maseca in my suitcases. I am happiest when my kitchen smells like my grandmother’s. Food, music, books, art, Skype calls with the abuelos and summers back at home with family is how we stay connected.

MB: Are we going to see more “Lucía the Luchadora books? Is there a sequel?

CG: I always envisioned Lucía the Luchadora as a series. I’m happy to say I just signed a contract with my publisher for the second book in the Lucía the Luchadora series and I’m currently finishing revisions. I’m super excited — high-flying leaps kind of excited — to share more of her adventure! Watch out world, Lucía’s little sister will make her debut in the next story and we’ll get to learn a little about another famous luchador in the second book.

A Latina children’s book author all the way in Kenya? I think Cynthia Leonor Garza is one to follow!

Bai, Bai for now,