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María Hinojosa: This is Latino USA, the radio journal of news and cultura. It’s Latino USA. 

Welcome to Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa. 

We bring you stories that are underreported, but that matter to you. Overlooked by the rest of the media. And while the country is struggling to deal with these problems. We listen to the stories of Black and Latino students.

A united Latino front. A cultural renaissance. Organizing at the forefront of the movement. I’m Maria Hinojosa. ¡No se vayan! 

Myriam Gurba: That was the first time somebody had accurately described what my abuser was. He was a creep. And that word helped to break the spell that the abuser had cast over me.

(MUSIC) 

María Hinojosa: From Futuro Media and PRX, it’s Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa. 

Today, author Myriam Gurba, unmasks the creeps. 

Myriam Gurba is a writer, she’s an author, and she’s an artist from California. Her most recent work is a collection of essays. The name of the book is “Creep, Accusations and Confessions.” The book “Creep” is now a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. 

Myriam Gurba: I’m inviting readers to treat the word “creep” as both a noun and a verb.

I’m also inviting readers to think of individual creeps, but to also consider the way that creeps might come together to form institutions. In the way that a slime mold unify a collection of disparate entities that can then walk as one and become animated as one.

María Hinojosa: Myriam looks at individual creeps. Including a person she was in an abusive relationship with and other creeps who she may have not had direct encounters with, but, Myriam then goes a step further and places these individuals within larger institutions, in order to look at how they’re often protected, these creeps, protected by the system.

Myriam Gurba: Some of the institutions that I examine in the essays are the criminal legal system, in particular jails and prisons. I examine the publishing industry and I also examine how schools and school administrations play a pivotal role in hiding creeps and abetting creeps. 

María Hinojosa: Myriam doesn’t only take an external aim, she also looks inward to her own family.

Now, in her own words, Myriam Gurba.

Myriam Gurba: My name is Myriam Gurba and I am a writer. My most recent book is “Creep, Accusations and Confessions” and prior to “Creep,” I authored several fiction collections and also a memoir titled “Mean.” 

I began to think about writing, about my experience surviving domestic violence after I had gotten free and had some time to begin recovering from the experience.

And language was really an important part of my liberation. The night that I managed to escape from my abuser was also the night that I first saw someone stand up to him. And the night that I escaped, my abuser attempted to chase me into a house where friends were protecting me. And my abuser very aggressively attempted to enter the house and my protector screamed at him and told him to leave and called him a creep.

That was the first time somebody had accurately described what my abuser was. He was a creep. And that word helped to break the spell that the abuser had cast over me. But once others were able to name him appropriately, that offered me a key so that I could unlock the path to liberation and use language to do that.

And so the word creep became a talisman of sorts that I used to light my literary path.

 “Mitote” is an essay that I wrote in order to reckon with the legacy of my grandfather. My grandfather has a literary legacy that is also a misogynistic legacy. And my grandfather wanted more than anything to be known. He wanted renown, he wanted notoriety, he wanted fame. And his mother believed that he was worthy of that and that he was entitled to that sort of greatness, that he would be one of the great men of Mexico. 

And unfortunately, his mother’s prophecy was never realized. But one of my grandfather’s classmates became one of these great men of Mexico.

And this classmate with whom my grandfather was close was the Mexican novelist, Juan Rulfo. 

So my grandfather had this contentious relationship with Rulfo and also with Rulfo’s reputation and I describe the two of them as frenemies because my grandfather found a way to monetize having known Rulfo.

I’m going to read an excerpt from the essay about him titled “Mitote” and it is set in Guadalajara during the 2010s.

“Before destroying my idols, I lay flowers at their feet. Siempre les doy flores. Rosas silvestres y cempasúchil are preferred, but other blooms will do. My tattooed fingers write violets, camellias, red dahlias, florecitas de calabaza, pétalos de jicuri, kieri, calla lilies, and baby’s breath into being. Erato, Muse of Poetry, waters this garden.

In tandem, we harvest, gathering an ofrenda that will place at the well-worn huaraches of my grandfather, Ricardo Serrano Rios. The last time I saw Abuelito alive, his machismo smoldered. It was December and three generations had descended upon the house where our patriarch would die. A moldering concrete box in the Mezquitán country neighborhood of Guadalajara.

As a girl, my mother stood barefoot in her small front yard, watching black horses pull funeral carriages to El Panteón de Mezquitán, one of the city’s oldest graveyards. Murals depicting the afterlife dress the cemetery walls and today my grandparents exchange whispers in one of its palm-shaded tombs. 

My tío Álvaro rests with them. Because my uncle cared for his mother and father until they took their last breaths, the word “spinster” best describes what he became. It’s usually daughters, not sons, who sidestep marriage, instead caring for parents who shrivel and shrink, returning to dust. 

To honor the love Álvaro gave, I write into being a cup.

Next, I fill it with tejuino, la bebida de los Dioses. Before I order you to hand this drink to my uncle’s thirsty spirit, allow me to add a scoop of crushed ice, a twist of lime, and three shots of the finest tequila. Now, pass the cup to my spinster tío.”

So, I didn’t have misgivings about this essay. I wanted to write it as an exemplar to show others that we can talk in authentic and genuine ways about the men who we are in family with. And I wanted to represent my grandfather in such a way where I credit him for having instilled in me a passion for words, a passion for poetry, a passion for the arts, a passion for the musicality of language.

But at the same time, he hurt so many women and girls. And so I wanted to show my grandfather in all of his horrific and glorious complexity. 

I think that we do a disservice to the dead, when we speak in a way that attempts to canonize them, and when we attempt to launder their legacy. And I think that that disservice is done because I do think that there is sort of a path to sort of spiritual reckoning that can happen posthumously because that’s what purgatory is, right?

Purgatory is a place where a soul can wait until that soul is ready to exit. And I would like to think that my grandfather is one of those souls, who is waiting for others to invite him, to reckon with the way that he lived. And so I, I took it upon myself to do that. And I engaged in a lot of ancestor magic. When I was working on the essay, I collected essays that he had written and, I developed a technique, like, it was almost like a divinatory technique that I used in order to communicate with him. 

So I had an essay that my grandfather had written about his relationship with Juan Rulfo. I made copies of the essay and sliced it into strips. 

I also photocopied pages out of Juan Rulfo’s “Pedro Páramo” and then sliced those into strips. I gathered all of the strips and mixed them. Then I would light a candle and I would ask a question of my grandfather.

And then I would drop the strips. And then pick them up in a specific order, and then read the response. And so those responses were channeling my grandfather.

“Locas” is the only essay in “Creep” that was commissioned by a family member. My cousin, Desiree, contacted me and told me that she was very disappointed by the way that she exists in the criminal legal archive. 

She was criminalized as a felon due to choices that she made to survive. And what Desiree asked me to do was to tell her story, more specifically, what she wanted for readers to understand are the processes by which a girl becomes a female gangster, and she wants it to be known that no girl is born a female gangster, girls become that. 

And as children, we formed our own gang. We called it “Pocas Pero Locas” and because I was never jumped out of our gang, when my cousin contacted me and gave me this assignment, I of course had to say yes. 

So here is a short reading. 

“Locas.”

 “My cousin Desiree and I never played house.

Pretending to be a mom who hits her kids with anything in reach or a dad who forgets to pay his child support didn’t interest us. Instead, we played at being female gangsters, cholas, young women with big hairdos and tattooed hands that could apply eyeliner as deftly as they could aim a shotgun at an enemy’s head.

Our gang had two members, us, and we planned on recruiting no one else, not our siblings, not our parents, and definitely not our grandma. We called ourselves “Pocas Pero Locas” and we practiced throwing gang signs, curling our small fingers into PPL. Desiree and I were 14 and 13 when we created our two-girl crime family.

We needed this little organization badly. There were things Desiree couldn’t tell her parents, and there were things I couldn’t tell mine. Turning away from grown ups, we created a tiny “Cosa Nostra” for protection, affection, and fun. Pledging our allegiance to PPL, we helped each other to carry our burdens as best as we could.

Committed to what we’ve built, Desiree and I remain as loyal to our childhood enterprise as the Pope is to gold. The day Desiree appointed me to tell her story, I started sketching it in my head. I knew it would begin with our hands. Hands are what we use to beautify ourselves. Hands are what we use to turn the volume up on the radio. Hands are what we use to commit facts to paper. Hands are what we use to caress lovers, fold letters, poke holes and kill.

My hands will show you why two California girls dreamt up a make-believe mafia and why one of us gravitated to a real one. My hands have permission to describe the romance and seduction of hustling. My hands will demonstrate that my cousin is living proof of the high cost some girls are expected to pay for surviving the United States of America, the country with the world’s highest incarceration rate.”

What Desi and I demonstrate is that, while she was attempting to escape child sexual abuse that was being perpetrated within our family, she was pushed into the arms of a gang, right? A gang that was essentially waiting for her because they were waiting for lost children like this to join. And so when she did join, she was soon arrested.

She was arrested at age 14 for joyriding in a station wagon, a stolen station wagon, and then taken to Westlake Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, where she was sexually assaulted. And so she left one institutional abuser, the family, in order to be captured by another institutional abuser, which is Juvenile Hall, which then later became another institutional abuser, jail, which then became another institutional abuser, which was prison, and she also suffered domestic violence in romantic relationships.

What we’re both attempting to show is the sort of handing off of a person who is deemed a problem, a social problem, who is handed off, from one abuser to another abuser, to another abuser, in the hopes that the problem disappears. And the problem never disappears because the problem is a human life.

I’m going to read an excerpt from an essay titled “Cucuy.” And “Cucuy” deals with gender-based violence and connects several perpetrators. 

“Homeowners installed window security bars. Handymen crouched, boarding up cat and doggy doors. Mexican grandmothers snuck into the bedrooms of grandchildren who worshipped Ozzy Osbourne and sprinkled holy water in the four corners.

At swap meets, kids were told that if they strayed from their mother’s sight, they’d get smacked with a shoe. Calloused hands locked deadbolts, and we prayed that if you know who wandered onto our street he’d scurry past our mailbox and oil-stained driveway. If the Night Stalker had to take lives, I hoped he’d pay a visit to my enemies.

I was old enough to have a few. I was eight.” 

Some Mexicans murmured that the Night Stalker and “El Cucuy.” A boogeyman who kidnaps and dines on naughty children, we’re one and the same. Because Mexicans compulsively assign nicknames, many of our families have a “Cucuy,” mine does. Ours is a “güero” to be avoided.

To call someone a “Cucuy” is a public service, a warning. A “Cucuy” is a person who should under no circumstances, babysit. Some theorize that the legend of “El Cucuy” was spawned by an Iberian superstition, “El Coco”. Duérmete niña, goes the monsters Macalollaby. ‘Duérmete ya, que viene el “Coco” y te llevará, duérmete niña, duérmete ya, que viene el “Coco.”’ 

The essay “Cucuy” is inspired by my experience of surviving sexual assault that was perpetrated by a stranger. And in exploring the history of such assaults, I link what happened to me, to prior perpetrators. So I link my history of assault to the history of Richard Ramirez’s murder spree, which took place in California.

He became known as the “Night Stalker.” 

The story of Richard Ramirez is very interesting to me because Ramirez became known as an incredibly prolific serial killer, but he was indoctrinated into violent misogyny by a cousin, a cousin named Mike, who had been a Green Beret. And Mike bragged that he had killed more people in Vietnam, than his cousin Richard Ramirez would ever go on to kill.

And so I referred to Mike as more a night stalker than the “Night Stalker”.

I do think that Mike heavily influenced Richard because he perpetrated a domestic violence murder in front of Richard, when Richard was very, very young. And through that essay, what I’m attempting to demonstrate is that gender-based violence accompanies mass violence, and that gender-based violence, intersects with empire because Mike was trained to kill as part of an imperial project.

He was dispatched to Vietnam like many young Chicanos were. 

The experience was atrocious and many of those soldiers came back in incredible distress and didn’t receive the treatment that they should have. And so I wanted to explore the way that empire, gender-based violence, and racism all intersect in the U.S. Southwest through these various Chicano figures. 

So in the essay “Cucuy,” I connect the sexual assault that I experienced in 1996 to Richard Ramirez’s legacy. And I do this by mentioning that the man who assaulted me in 1996, Tommy Jesse Martinez, was sentenced to… he was sentenced to die. 

In San Quentin, his sentence was later commuted to life in prison, but when he was living in San Quentin and confined to death row, he was living in the same section of the jail or of the prison as Richard Ramirez. And so I tried to stitch these two experiences together in a way that I think might be surprising for the reader.

I don’t think the reader’s expecting to learn that. (MUSIC)

there are several intentions behind “Creep.” The first intention was a truth-telling project. I very, very, very much wanted to write a chronicle of my experience surviving intimate partner violence. I wanted to trace the trajectory of that relationship, beginning with, the love bombing, the bonding, what ultimately was like an experience of captivity, and then an experience of liberation.

So much of our reality is constructed through the act of naming. 

And so much is hidden through the act of misappropriating names. Like I mentioned earlier, hearing my defender call my abuser a creep was very much what broke the chain. It was incredibly instructive and it demonstrated for me that if I was going to free myself, I needed to use language to do it, and I can generalize from there and then argue, that, if all of us are going to free ourselves, language is going to be key in doing that and naming is going to play a particularly important role. (MUSIC)

María Hinojosa: This episode was produced by Reynaldo Leaños Jr, it was edited by Sarah Whites-Koditschek. It was mixed by Stephanie Lebow. The Latino USA team also includes Andrea López-Cruzado, Victoria Estrada, Glorimar Márquez, Marta Martínez, Mike Sargent, Nour Saudi, and Nancy Trujillo. Peniley Ramírez is our co-executive producer. 

Our senior engineer is Julia Caruso. Our marketing manager is Luis Luna. Our theme music was composed by Xenia Rubinos. 

I’m your host and executive producer, Maria Hinojosa. Join us again on our next episode. Remember always, you can find us on social media and don’t be a creep. ¡No te vayas! 

Ciao. 

Sthepanie Lebow: Latino USA is made possible in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation, unlocking knowledge, opportunity, and possibilities. More at hsfoundation.org. 

Michelle Mercer and Bruce Golden, and Agnes Gund.

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