BY MONIQUE QUINTANA
I first came in contact with the poet/zine maker/artisan, Alma Rosa Rivera when we began to follow each other on Instagram last fall and since then, I’ve been inspired by their politicized existence. I recently spoke with them to learn more about how they dream and manifest in their California community and beyond.
Monique Quintana: Can you talk about Frijolera Press? Where exactly is its’ home base and who is involved?
Alma Rosa Rivera: Frijolera press is a what I call a D.I.Y Chicana run zine press. For right now, it’s only me running it. It’s literally based out of my little room in South Gate, CA. I’m a big believer in who I am though. I know right now it’s just a room, but I think one day I would love to be able to help my community become published. I would love to help all of us make a little money doing what we love. Sandra Cisneros’ first book, Bad Boys, was published on a small press called Mango Press.
She’s one of my biggest inspirations, so I thought if Sandra is the Mango...Who am I? I’m definitely the bean. The bean is so sacred to me because it’s what nourishes the poor. It has always been there for me when my wallet wasn’t. So my whole aesthetic with my poetry and zines have centered on Frijoles and the community who eats them. I constantly put in little words and phrases that have to do with beans in my work.
MQ: The Tranquila Zine is beautiful and full of advice and information from the point-of-view of amazing individuals of color. Can you explain how you came up with the concept of the magazine and how long it took to put together?
ARR: I came up with the concept of Tranquila Zine while taking a long shower. Somewhere in between the shampoo and conditioner, I realized that this was a zine that was really needed. I made the Tranquila Zine at one of my hardest periods of my life. My mental health was literally in shreds. I used to think my anxiety was asthma, or brain cancer, or lung cancer, or maybe even a heart attack waiting to happen. I had this feeling of doom and death lingering over me every single moment of my life. I thought maybe I was going crazy too. Social media in a way is what helped me figure out I wasn’t alone.
The more I talked about my struggles, the more I realized other people were going through something similar. I felt I had a sense of community and this community needed somewhere to vent and to realize that none of us in reality were alone on this. The main point in creating Tranquila Zine was to make people around the world realize that they aren’t alone in their battle with mental illness. A lot of us are trying to survive the battle against ourselves and that’s okay. I also wanted to create a space specifically for brown, latinx, chicanx, indigenous mujeres to talk about their own experiences. I wanted our stories to be represented.
MQ: As I was reading through your zines, I began to see them as a form of collective wellness. How can we make wellness more of a communal effort? How can we help others self-care in small ways?
ARR: I think we could create wellness by creating more sober events. More free events. More open mics where people can vent. More events that feed people for free. More events with fresh food to eat. More events that teach us something. When I first got into Xicanisma, I used to go to a lot of workshops and discussion circles. I kind of miss that. So every once in a while, I try to create an event just to get people together. I think a lot of evil things in the world stem from things that could’ve been prevented.
Most people just need someone to listen. I always remember this quote from Marilyn Manson when asked what he would tell the kids responsible for Columbine...he said something along the lines of..."I wouldn’t say anything...I would listen...something no one did for those kids.” That really stuck in my head and I believe in that for most cases.
MQ: I think it’s really important for brown writers to seek out ways that they can run their own projects, whether it be print or online. I’ve just been getting into running my own website and I’ve learned so much from the experience. How has creating your own press opened up the audience for your own poetry, and what have you learned from your role as boss?
ARR: Poetry was something I sort of fell into. I started doing spoken word in East LA a few years ago and nothing had ever felt so right in my life. I began writing as a form of therapy. I still see it as my therapy, but I also use it as a voice to talk about things white people don’t want me to talk about. I try to stay unapologetic when it comes to my writing. I think that’s the angry brown subcultural kid inside of my heart though. Having my own press has been a way for me to group all of my work together and give it a sense of unity. It also makes it accessible to people who can’t make events due to distance or physical restraints.
It’s helped put my name out there, which I want, but I also want to eventually help other writers and have people know Frijolera Press. As far as being a boss, I’m still learning a lot of things. I’m a rookie, but if I had to say one thing that I’m doing right is how I carry myself. Everywhere I go, I carry myself as a writer. I don’t care that I’m self-published for now. I believe it’s the content that matters, and I believe in my big mouth and all the crazy, funny, political, angry, beautiful things that come out of it.
MQ: I noticed from your Instagram that you vend at a lot of awesome events in the LA area. What have you taken away from your experience vending amongst other artist-activists?
ARR: I vend and hustle because I am always struggling and fighting. I’m 26 and still figuring out how exactly I’m going to make it. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing the longest game of chess and I’m losing. Some people have the luxury of creating art and vending for exposure and for fun. For me, vending has sometimes been whether or not I make rent, or if I have money for groceries. Maybe that makes me sound like a loser, but this is my reality. I’m living in a society not built for me as a darker skinned woman of color.
So I try to remember that. I really like vending though. It feels really good when people purchase things that were once only an idea. I like being around other artists and activists because they inspire me to believe in my dreams. They inspire me to not be afraid to think outside the norm.
MQ: Do you want to give any shout-outs to any other brown artists-activists? Who should our readers know more about?
ARR: I’d like to give a shout out to the love of my life, Richard Castor who creates Originals Magazine. Rich is super talented and their last issue was an all woman issue full of art, photography, interviews inspired by the Chicana/Latina/Chola/Lowrider culture. I really believe everyone should take a look at the last issue, and I mean that from the heart.
Some of my writer crushes include Rios de la Luz, Meliza Banales, Isabel Quintero, and Yesika Salgado, to name a few. St. Sucia is one zine group I have a big zine crush on as well. They are all such beautiful people and the work they create is a projection of that.
MQ: What new projects are in the works for yourself and Frijolera Press?
ARR: I actually have a lot of projects in the works. My next zine will be a poetry and short story chapbook titled Feathered Serpent: The Raven and the POEtry. The collection is going to be bird themed and is inspired by a pigeon I helped with a broke wing. I helped the pigeon and in return it gave me so much inspiration for the chapbook. We were meant to cross paths, that pigeon and I. We exchanged energy and it was definitely a trade I’m grateful for.
I’m also going to be working on a new series titled Broke Bitch Zine with my good friend Alex from Velvet Beehive. The series is going to be very funny, very "broad city-esq." We both have had a lot of shitty jobs and have struggled and we want to create a space for QTWOC and non- binary folx to come laugh about it with us. Our submission for this zine are open until July 7th. Check out our pages for the flyer!
MQ: Your zine, Chicana Y Calaveras taps into the idea of subculture as a necessity of progress and Your Love in the Time of Trump zine reads like an incantation during these uncertain times. What advice would you give to other artists making subversive literature right now? What keeps you creating?
ARR: If I had advice to all the rebel writers and creators I’d say, "Keep fucking shit up! and never stop having fun while doing it!" I really enjoy being an angry chicana feminist writer and so being subversive just comes natural to me.
As for staying motivated, there’s a lot of things that keep me creating and writing. Books with beautifully designed Mexican homes I can’t afford is a big one. I dream of one day owning a beautiful house with gorgeous tile all over the bathroom...I dream of not having a boss screaming down on my neck…just my room and the sound of kachingg as I’m clicking on my typewriter. I dream of being somebody. Of walking into a room and being respected in the literary world for my work.
I dream of not being a poor kid with only a bean in my pocket. I want to be it all! I want to make my bean into a giant bean stock...I want my work to be up there! Up in the sky, for a little brown girl to point her finger up at and say, "Hey, that’s me!" And for her to strive to be me, the way I strive to be Sandra Cisneros or Michele Serros or Ana Castillo. I pray that one day I will earn that day and I will be that kind of writer...till then...I’m just me.
Alma Rosa Rivera is a writer, spoken word poet, zine maker, and organizer who resides in Los Angeles. She is the creator of Tranquila Zine, Love in the time of Trump, and Penas y Empanadas. She is currently working on a new zine series Broke Bitch Zine and her newest collection of poems Feathered Serpent: The Raven and the POEtry. Her hobbies include collecting paper maché skeletons and being in love. You can find her work at Frijolerapress.bigcartel.com
Monique Quintana is a contributing editor at Luna Luna and blogs at razorhousemagazine.com. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing Fiction from CSU Fresno, and her work has appeared in Huizache, The Acentos Review, Bordersenses, and Clash Media, among others. She teaches English at Fresno City College.