¡Qué horror! Life as a Gringa-Rican Horror Maven
By Ann Dávila Cardinal
In the early 70s I would arrive for my summer-long stay at my great aunt Ana’s house in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, with a stack of horror comics tucked in my suitcase: Tales From the Crypt, Creepy, Monsters Unleashed. My tía would shuffle through them with a look of disgust, making that disapproving clucking sound with her tongue that she did when seeing a dead animal or beggar in the street.
“Ay Annie, why can’t you read something nice?” She would shuffle through the pile with the tips of her arthritic fingers, making little gasping sounds at the sight of each cover. “These are not appropriate for a little girl. Does your mother know you read these…things?” She pushed the pile away and clutched at the neckline of her prim blouse.
I smiled at her, (of course, because according to her I was usually a sinvergüenza, one without shame). “Mom bought them for me, Titi!”
She would shake her head of gray beauty parlor curls, and shuffle away in a flurry of swishing nylons stockings.
Truth was, my mother didn’t care what I read, as long as I was reading. And besides, she was the one who handed me dog-eared copies of Dracula and Frankenstein, telling me they were true Gothic literature…when I was ten. So, you could say that I received mixed messages as to the appropriateness of my love of horror from my family.
When out among the rest of the world, it was more a gender issue for me in those days. Girls in my school didn’t watch or read horror, they loved Disney and romantic comedies (hell, they also loved the band Poco, so there was no accounting for taste). So, I learned to keep this particular interest to myself.
Until I got into punk rock at fifteen. Now these were my people.
The punk world and horror went hand-in-hand, so I no longer had to keep my taste for all things macabre to myself. I mean, I would go see the Bad Brains at CBGBs and The Plasmatics at Max’s Kansas City. The line between the two art forms was blurred, and I was in my glory. By this time my great aunt had given up on me with my spiked hair and tattoos, limiting her judgement to a shake of the head, a disappointed sigh, and an “Ay, Annie…” thrown in for good measure.
It wasn’t until I became a writer in my forties that I wondered at the lack of Hispanic names in the field of horror literature. Was it a cultural divide? Or were they simply not being translated? Then I read a story from my cousin Tere Dávila (an award-winning author on the island) that she wrote after Hurricane Maria. It was about a father and his two young daughters, cut off without power in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Things get progressively darker as time passes, and the girls become feral and…well, let’s just say the family dog doesn’t fair well. It hit me in my gut, much like the work of Cronenberg or Stephen King does. It was then I realized that in all those magical realist novels and stories I was raised on—the short story by Julio Cortazar where the businessman becomes a salamander, the visits from the angel of death in Love In the Time of Cholera—the line between the Latin fabulismo/absurdo/surrealismo and American horror seemed fairly blurred as well.
Consider the plethora of mythic horrors that abound in Latinx cultures. My novel Five Midnights (Tor Teen, June 4, 2019) is based on the legend of El Cuco. Parents in most Latin countries threaten their children with this variation on the boogeyman. “Best behave or El Cuco is going to get you!” Good lord! Talk about horror! And in Mexico there’s La Llorona, who drowned her children and wanders around crying and haunting people. I mean, these cultures give the Grimm Brothers a run for their money. But most of these tales come from an oral tradition, as many traditional tales do, and are not translated from the original Spanish often. But now there are so many brilliant Latin writers spinning tales of horror: Daniel Jose Older, Victor LaValle, Carmen Machado, Mariana Enriquez, and many more. I think that a young Latinx girl with a penchant for scary stories these days will find more and more names like her own on the library or bookstore shelves. Not enough yet, but more than when I was a young girl with a stack of horror comics clutched to my chest.
So, in writing this article I asked myself: was horror against character for this Gringa-Rican writer? Nah. Although I can pretty much guarantee that my Great Aunt Ana is not rolling in her grave necessarily, rather shaking her head and perhaps waggling her finger at me. Don’t worry, Titi, someone is actually paying me to write it now!
About Ann Dávila Cardinal
Ann is a novelist and Director of Recruitment for Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). She has a B.A. in Latino Studies from Norwich University, an M.A. in sociology from UI&U and an MFA in Writing from VCFA. She also helped create VCFA’s winter Writing residency in Puerto Rico.
Ann’s first novel, Sister Chicas was released from New American Library in 2006. Her next novel, a horror YA work titled Five Midnights, will be released by Tor Teen in June 2019.
Her stories have appeared in several anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (2005) and Women Writing the Weird (2012) and she contributed to the Encyclopedia Latina: History, Culture, And Society in the United States edited by Ilan Stavans. Her essays have appeared in American Scholar, Vermont Woman, AARP, and Latina Magazines.
Ann lives in Vermont.