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Mariana Osorio Gumá. Courtesy of the author
Cuban-Mexican writer Mariana Osorio Gumá. Photo courtesy of the author

Giving voice to migrant children

In 'When You Get to the Other Side,' Mariana Osorio tells the story of two brothers crossing the border to the U.S.

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Mariana Osorio Gumá was born in 1967 in Havana, Cuba, but when she was still a child, her family emigrated to Chile, then to Italy and finally to Mexico, where she currently resides.

“I usually say that I am Mexican by choice,” explains this Cuban-Mexican psychoanalyst and writer, who just published in English for the U.S. market her most recent novel, When You Get to the Other Side (Cinco Puntos Press, 2022). The book follows the adventures of a 12-year-old Mexican girl named Emilia and her 15-year-old brother Gregorio who lose their curandera grandmother and have to scrape together the only money they have to pay coyotes to cross over to the U.S. to meet their father.

Of course the experience of exile (from Cuba to Chile and from Chile to Mexico) has impacted my existence deeply, therefore it is reflected in my writing,” admits the author.

“Surely that has made me particularly interested in giving voice to migrant children, because I have experienced firsthand everything that such a situation impacts on the life of a human being. Writing about it is a way of reliving it and also of creating a memory through fiction,” she adds.

When You Get to the Other Side was born not only from her interest in giving a voice to migrant children — “To go deeper inside, to imagine their desires, their motors, their fantasies, their origins” — but also from a certain desire to denounce circumstances that are erased from memory.

Mariana Osorio's novel, Cinco Puntos Press
Cinco Puntos Press

“I think fiction is the best way to account for reality. It is the way the psyche tolerates it better and, thus, whoever reads, eventually, will be able to empathize with the pain and difficult circumstances of others. Especially children immersed in very complicated situations,” she says.

In addition to the two brothers, one of the most prominent characters in the novel is their grandmother, Mama Lochi, an elderly healer. And this is no coincidence.

The Wisdom of Grandparents

I believe that the wisdom of the elderly, of grandparents, is often close to the wisdom of children. Maybe that’s why there are so many communicating vessels between them. Mama Lochi embodies that wisdom. As a grandmother, as an elder and as a healer,” Osorio explains.

According to the author, healers (curanderos) are living and active characters in rural Mexican communities. They transmit visions of the existence of the world or worlds that is very enriching even if it is not the 'official' vision. Or just because of that.

When a healer is really a healer, you have to believe him or her: he or she will always have an unpublished view of the inner truths, of the body, of the soul, and will also have something relevant to say about some situations that concern the community,” she says.

A passionate reader since childhood, Osorio began writing poetry and short stories for herself, until, at her thirties, she enrolled in the Dynamic School of Writers directed by Mario Bellatin in Mexico.

“Then I took ownership of my vocation. And I fully understood that a vocation is a call that seems to come from outside, but that comes from the deepest and truest part of one’s being. Without writing and reading, I couldn’t live,” she said.

Osorio Gumá is the author of several books, including the novels El Paraíso de las moscas (2010), published in Mexico and Spain; Tal vez vuelvan los pájaros (2014), winner of the 2013 Lipp Brasserie Prize, an award given to the most outstanding emerging novels in Latin America; Escucha las sombras bajo el palmar (2015), and a book of short stories Las siete vidas de un gato (2019). She is now working on a noir trilogy about child trafficking.

“There is a lot to say about that topic from fiction, and personally, I find it fundamental to explore it from literature,” comments Osorio, who defines herself as a passionate about books and a fervent defender of the transformative power of reading.

In her spare time, she is dedicated to the coordination of the Colectivo Lucha Libris, a traveling and self-managed library, which travels some roads in Mexico, creating community libraries and sharing readings from around the world, especially in rural areas, and quite devastated, of the country.

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