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Photo: Adriana Herrera
The Dominican author wants to elevate literature by centering Afro-Latinx culture. Photo: Adriana Herrera

“Lean into what gives you energy to write”, author Adriana Herrera

Adriana Herrera is an author who writes romance centering Afro-Latinx culture and joy.

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Adriana Herrera is an author who writes romance centering Afro-Latinx culture and joy. She was born and raised in the Dominican Republic until the age of 23, when she migrated to New York City for graduate school, approximately twenty years ago. 

Adriana’s love for romance books started at the age of eleven, reading approximately 100 books a year. She mentions that her life experience is complex, cementing her love for romance books— often a form of escapism, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Her life in the Dominican Republic was different from her life in the U.S. because “being Dominican and living as a Dominican brown skinned person in the Dominican Republic with all the complexities that our culture has around colorism, our blackness, how we see ourselves— African descendants— is really different to me [in] the U.S. as a person in a brown body, who is also an immigrant, who is also bisexual, who is also a woman,” Adriana explains. 

She is also a social worker working with immigrant communities, especially human trafficking, domestic and sexual violence victims in New York City; 2016 and 2017 were extremely challenging times for her. All she wanted was to ‘consume romance—something soft.’ But she couldn’t find her story reflected back to her in the protagonists and romance stories that were available. 

“I couldn’t find books that were about women who were Dominican, who were queer, who were immigrants, who were living and feeling the things that I was feeling and getting to have a happy ending,” Adriana emphasized. “Just really felt the need to see all parts of myself reflected back to me in what I was reading.” 

Adriana wants the community to be receptive and have accessibility to books about bisexual Dominican brown skinned plus size woman who meets someone who acknowledges her worth and wants to do everything she can to make her partner happy— “they have great sex and have a happily ever after,” that’s what she wants, for Latinx books to be more than just “lesson books.” 

“We have the books that people go to learn a lesson or to learn about some atrocity or to learn about some traumatic tragic thing,” Adriana explained. “I feel like those books are important because they are speaking to an experience, a reality, then we should also get to have books [where] a beautiful woman on the cover has curly hair and is going to Paris and finds a girl [who is] obsessed with her. That’s all I want. For both things to exist.”

According to a report by NPD, LGBTQ books are surging with sales growing by 1.3 million units when compared to the previous year. Although LGBTQ adult romance remains a relatively small niche, accounting 3% of romance sales. LGBTQ Latinx stories remain an even smaller niche.

Adriana wants to change this. She wants for “us to be the center.” Her stories mainly depict strivers as she likes to call them. 

“I feel like that’s who we are. Dominicans, latin immigrants, all immigrants we are strivers. The resilience, the way that we make community. The way we show up in places, and specifically I always say nobody loves being like Dominicans being Dominicans,” Herrera emphasizes. “There’s a particular joy that we have about our country and our homeland and our culture—all the things that are ours and it's really important to me to show that in my books.”

Photo: Adriana Herrera

In her latest book A Caribbean Heiress in Paris, first book in Las Léonas series, is about what really happened during the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris where the Dominican Republic and other 12 Latinx countries had pavilions and were representing their countries in the first global event in human history. An interest that was sparked by an article she found in Periodico Listin Diario, a newspaper in the Dominican Republic that discussed the event and how the Dominican President at the time, Ulises Heureaux, known as Lis owed money to the King of Belgium, resulting in the King snubbing the Dominican Republic’s pavilion. Although the story focuses on Luz Alana on her journey to sell rum in the City of Lights and her romantic encounter, the level of research that went into constructing this book is astonishing.  

Adriana wanted Latinos who never get to read our history in this genre “to place us there.” But in doing so highlighting “we weren’t coming to be filled with European culture. We were coming in with our own. And we were there fully as ourselves—to show that despite all the influences we have from the west, we made our own thing too.” 

Herrera made sure to claim ownership of the language as many people assume Spanish as widely spoken, it is the same as Cuban Spanish or Spanish from Spain. However, Dominican Spanish follows its own register because the influences from West Africa, Taino, and other cultures have been blended in the Caribbean. 

“To me it is really important to take ownership of our language even though, yes we were colonized by Spain,” Adriana reiterates. 

The United States has the 2nd- largest Spanish speaking population in the world, with Mexicans being the largest among U.S Hispanics. 

Therefore, centering Dominican culture in a nuanced way is imperative to Adriana, who acknowledges the societal issues of colorism, misogyny, harmful religiosity, which are deeply embedded in Dominicans. Culturally speaking, these issues propelled her desire to live elsewhere. 

“Female pleasure, women pleasure is something that is not culturally [acceptable] to discuss. Men can do whatever they want. They can have as many lovers as they want. And they can talk openly about their sexual experiences and their own pleasure,” Adriana explained. “Women’s pleasure is not allowed to be discussed. And we are not allowed to think about our own pleasure.”

Emphasizing the importance to write about “women who know their bodies, who have agency around their pleasure. Who finds partners who want to give them that pleasure.” Adriana’s books are opened door, which means the sex scenes are explicitly written. 

She writes for those who love romance or love reading about romance and are eager to see their full selves in the books they read. Also, that there are books written by Latinx authors for Latinx readers and to please look for them, just as she at a young age connected to El Amor en los Tiempos de Colera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “everything sounded, looked like, smelled like Santo Domingo,” Adriana attest. “Lean into what gives you the energy to write. Don’t write what you think you should be writing about because you want to write ‘an important book’— if you want to be a writer, be a writer.”

However, she believes the main problem is that “us immigrants absorb this idea that we have to earn our right to occupy a space or to do the things that make us happy, as opposed to, to do the things that make us respectable.” 

Herrera wants aspiring writers to ‘not let anybody tell you what it is that we can write about.


 

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