BY MONIQUE QUINTANA
In the current political climate, women are building resistance through art and commerce. This week, I talked to L.A. poet Rebecca Gonzales about bookbinding, activism, and mothering brown boys in these tumultuous days.
Monique Quintana: When I met you during this year’s AWP Conference in Washington, D.C. , I was really impressed by the fact that you’re a bookbinder. You’re the first binder I’ve every met. How did you get started binding and how long have you been doing it?
Rebecca Gonzales: I have been binding for about 3 years now. I am for the most part self-taught. I just gained an apprenticeship with a master binder from Los Angeles in January and I get to work beside her in her bindery. It has been an amazing experience to learn beside a woman who has been binding for 30 years.
M.Q.: What’s the strangest/most interesting book binding project you’ve been asked to do?
R.G.: I have yet to get a "strange" request for binding, but this month I am working on my first wedding photo album and guest book. I have been given lots of artistic independence, so I am experimenting with materials I have been wanting to use.
M.Q.: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your experience being a binder?
R.G.: I feel the greatest lesson I have learned is how to be quiet. How to pick up on the rhythm of things that I didn’t know made so much sound, or the part I play in the rhythm/sound of what I am doing. It has become a kind of meditative process, where I am pulling apart my thoughts as I am binding signature after signature. I make each book/ journal with intention that the person writing in it will connect to. Journaling is important, so when I sell my journals and people say it feels so special to write in it, I know we are connected. When folks journal, they are being so vulnerable on those pages and they know that a person made this for that reason, and it makes the whole thing special.
M.Q.: Like myself, you’re a working artist mom. I struggle with spending time away from my son when I’m away at events or working on a project. On top of that, we both know it’s not easy raising brown boys in this current political climate. How do you maintain a balance between being a mom and all the things you’re involved in?
R.G: I suffer a tremendous amount of guilt, I sometimes feel like I am a bad or selfish mother. The culture prescribes a complete absence of self. Once a woman bares children, she ceases to be an individual or person with desires or goals outside of her children or tidy home. In pursuing writing and any artistic endeavor, I am seen by some of my family as frivolous or ridiculous, but I know that children believe/learn from what we do and not what we say. My hope is that my son will see me never accepting a singular existence. I hope his take-away is that we never stop dreaming or reaching, that we are never to old to dream. I keep an open communication with him, tell him why I do it, what it means to me. Also, I have to be selective about the events I will attend. I make it a point to have meaningful time with him in our everyday routine. We don’t have phones or TV on while eating dinner. I also wake up at 4 AM Monday through Friday to be alone in my kitchen or work uninterrupted, devoting time to reading, writing or binding, so by the time he wakes up at 6:30 AM, I am ready for him. As a mother raising a brown boy, I am always worried about what my son may face as he gets older, by the current social patterns, that he will become some kind of natural threat to society simply by existing in that dark skin of his. I tell him the truth. I always have conversations with him about race and language and police. I present information to him, and I ask about his thoughts and his feelings, and I tell him that his ability to feel is his greatest power.
I try to have meaningful time with my son on a daily basis to maintain a strong bond. I let him know what I am doing. It helps him to feel included.
M.Q.: LA has a great community of poets. You’re an accomplished poet yourself. What does poetry mean for you? How long have you been writing, and what are you current writing obsessions?
R.G.: I have been writing since I was in the third grade. For me, it means everything. I mean poetry is in everything, it is everything. It is not trying to be poetry, it does not call itself poetry, it just is. It’s the "it." That’s how I feel about god. God/poetry is all those moments, when we are brought to tears or laughter or from laughter to tears, when we are dragging ourselves along the cement of any city, begging for a reason or a sign, when we are dancing and singing with our voices crashing against the sky or ceiling, our legs quivering beneath us, but are unwilling to stop to rest, feeling the sweat and heat on all parts of us, but we keep moving, all of that is god, all of that is poetry.
Lately, I have been writing these stories about people—I’m in love with the ones we (the righteous) call malcriados. Like in [the Mayan saying] Lak’ etch, I want to see myself in them and them in me and love the fuck out of both.
M.Q: You’re super active in your art and activism. What are some things you do to take care of yourself in your down time?
R.G.: I would like to be more active in my community, considering what we are facing, gentrification, the new administration, etc. When I do allow myself down time, I go for hikes or take a run, watch stand-up comedy or I will day dream, make up stories in my head about meeting someone I fall in love with, but then they have this really strange mana that makes me crazy. I spend most of the day dreaming, trying to make up annoying hybrid ticks that are really just a concoction of the people I already know and their annoying habits. And of course, read!
You can contact and follow Rebecca's book binding business on Instagram.
Monique Quintana is the Beauty and Fashion Editor of Luna Luna and the Managing Editor of the blog at Razorhouse. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing Fiction from CSU Fresno and her work has been published in Huizache, Bordersenses, The Acentos Review, among others. She is a member of the Latinx Authors Collective, and she teaches English at Fresno City College.