Interview with Aline Desentis Otálora

by Rebecca Crocker

Rebecca Crocker: Aline, describe a bit about your personal background, where you were raised and with whom. Who were the principal influences in your childhood?

Aline Desentis: I grew up in southern Mexico City, in the neighborhood of Los Reyes, Coyoacán, along with my parents and my three older siblings (two sisters and one brother). Almost since I was a baby, I have been in love with the written word and thanks to my father's support, I learned to read very young, at age 2. Ever since I can remember I have been surrounded by reading and I made up stories to entertain my cousins. During the fifth grade, I began my learning process by writing stories about extraterrestrials and an essay in which I imagined what would happen if people had tails like animals. Later during my adolescence, I began writing poetry, although I won a contest in 1984 when I was in middle school for a surrealist story entitled "The River of Smoke." My main influences included my mother and my grandmother, assiduous readers, and later on my sister Carla. But my primary influence was my friend and teacher Alonso Lujambio who encouraged me to write since childhood and gave me serious critiques, first of my extraterrestrial stories and later of my poetry. He recommended readings for me (The Old Man and the Sea, A Happy World, Benedetti) but down the road I leaned more toward my grandmother's passion: magical realism and García Márquez.

RC: When did you begin to write, both as a hobby and also professionally? Where did you study when you were in school?

AD: For me, writing has always been a hobby and a medicine. I never think "Okay, I am going to write something now," but rather it's as if small demon was dictating me images, sentences and whole stories. I completed my professional studies at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM) where I studied Social Sciences, but I must admit that what I enjoyed most about my time there was the creative writing workshop.

RC: Who are the primary writers who have inspired your work, and why?

AD: Generally speaking, it's been the Latin American writers, because they describe realities that are similar to mine: Jorge Amado, García Márquez (he's a monster of a narrator), Elena Garro. Recently I read Celso Santajuliana and I loved it. Lastly, Bruno Traven and Alfredo Bryce Echenique, but I can also say that I have other special authors: Herman Melville, Michael Ende, Umberto Eco, and Tolkien.

RC: Explain to us what's in the background of "Dead Dog." Why did you write this story, how is it related to your life? The environment described in the story, is it something that you believe actually exists to a certain extent in rural Mexico, or is it rather a metaphor, or something that you fear for the future?

AD: You're not going to believe this, but I lived in the neighborhood of "Perro Muerto" for three and a half years, and after everything I saw there and lived through, I can tell you that honestly, the story has few exaggerations. My son got sick with fright when, at age 2 1/2, he first discovered a dead dog in the street. And, well, I've always been interested in writing about these neighborhoods on the edge of highway, with their brightly colored announcements for town dances and the stench of road kill. Marginalization is a constant factor in almost any human settlement in Latin America.

RC: In your opinion, what are the primary challenges that Mexico faces today? And could you speak specifically about Oaxaca?

AD: I think that the primary challenge facing Mexico is its lack of autonomy, as much in economic terms as politically and culturally. We are always copying models rather than creating our own model. In Oaxaca we face the culmination of this lack of autonomy: a crisis in which those who have always governed refuse to leave their seats of power, while new forces are trying to seize those seats of power. And the people are in the middle of all this, struggling as always for their autonomy and their own forms of organization.

RC: What do you have planned for the near future?

AD: I am preparing a book of stories based on popular legends and myths called "Historia de todas partes" (Story of All Places). It's slow going because each story is like a small birth, but it's going. In terms of plans for the immediate future? Finding a job!

RC: And finally, is there anything you would like to communicate to your new North American readers?

AD: Well, just that they should read the work of writers from underdeveloped countries so that they can truly understand other realities, and I hope they enjoy "Perro Muerto."

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