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Mexican writer Brenda Navarro in 2019. Photo: Ángel Soto Saldivar
Mexican writer Brenda Navarro in 2019. Photo: Ángel Soto Saldivar /Wikipedia

Brenda Navarro: narrating the experience of migrating to Spain

In her new novel, set in Spain, Mexican author Brenda Navarro addresses elusive issues such as inequality, xenophobia and the rootlessness of migrants.

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Brenda Navarro (Mexico City,1982) is a writer who leaves no one indifferent, at least in the most feminist sense of the word. She studied Sociology and Feminist Economics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and she has a master's degree in Gender, Women and Citizenship Studies at the University of Barcelona. After working as an editor, screenwriter, reporter and human rights activist, she was the founder of #EnjambreLiterario, a project focused on publishing works written by women.

'Casas vacías', her first novel, about feminicides in Mexico, published in 2019 by Sexto Piso, was awarded the XLII Premio Tigre Juan and translated into seven languages. And now she returns with 'Ceniza en la boca', (Ash in the mouth) a novel also published by Sexto Piso, in which she narrates the emotional journey of a young woman who witnesses the suicide of her teenage brother, Diego, and little by little she begins to understand the reasons that led him to take his own life: his arrival in the world in a home where life was never fair.

The years he spent in Mexico with his grandparents, while his mother made a living in Spain, and it was she, still a child, who took care of Diego. The time in Madrid, a city they didn't understand and that didn't understand them either. The first separation, when she went to Barcelona to make her way and her brother stayed in the place he hated the most. And her return, carrying Diego's ashes, to a Mexico very different from the one she remembered.

"A story of separations and abandonments, of longing and anger, of loss and initiation to life, in which Brenda Navarro addresses with enormous courage elusive issues such as inequality, xenophobia or uprooting, and which confirms her as one of the most powerful and audacious narrators of our literature," wrote her editors.

Although the novel is not autofiction, Navarro shares with the protagonist the fact that she has also migrated from Mexico to Spain, passing through Barcelona and Madrid.

However, their experiences were very different, and it is precisely that, knowing what she was not living, what prompted her to write it, according to what the Mexican author told to Smoda, a supplement of the newspaper El País. And she gave as an example when in Barcelona she was once approached by a Bolivian caregiver thinking she was one of them, because there is a well-established network of cleaners and inmates from her country in the city.

"Seeing me as a Latin American, she thought I was also a caregiver or cleaner. I understand my privilege of not having arrived like them and not having suffered what they have lived or will live. And that, probably, is what made me want to scrutinize and question how I live my migration," Navarro explained to Smoda. 

ceniza en la boca brenda navarro

In the novel, she also addresses the issue of poverty and the moral burden of the fear of being poor among migrants when they arrive in a country.

"The fear of being poor is very hard, we don't want to be poor under any circumstances. Even if we don't make ends meet, we try to maintain this European ideal, this Swedish symbol of Ikea, of everything clean, perfect, beautiful, aesthetic, etc., because if we recognized ourselves as poor we would have to take responsibility and put our bodies to complain. We have to question what poverty means within our precariousness," she said. 

On the other hand, as in 'Casas vacías', the author deals with the issue of gender violence and femicides, but instead of situating it in Spain, she places it in Mexico, to compare how the issue is treated in both countries. "In Spain they say "we don't talk about that" and those are precisely the things that need to be dealt with. It is interesting to see how the Mexican and Spanish realities have the same problem," she concluded. 

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