Latinx Heritage in Horror: Interview with Jose Nateras
Jose Nateras is an L.A. based Writer and Filmmaker from Chicago. A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, Jose has his MFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). A screenwriter and playwright, Jose is also a contributor for The A.V. Club and elsewhere. His debut novel, Testament, was published by Ninestar Press. One of his feature-length horror screenplays, Zero Feet Away, was included on 2021’s Bloodlist and has been optioned by Village Roadshow Pictures/Brillstein Entertainment Partners where it is currently in development. Another, Departing Seniors, is currently in production. He can be found on Twitter: @JoseNateras & Instagram: @JLorca13
What inspired you to start writing?
I was inspired to start writing as a young kid by the stories I loved when I was little. I’d imitate them and create my own versions. I remember looking at the covers of Goosebumps books and writing stories inspired by them.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I think, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, I was a very fearful child. My dad is a retired Marine and while I was growing up, our family moved around a lot and he would be gone for long stretches of time. The fear that comes with the unknown, with living a life where there is a lot of change and uncertainty is something I grew up feeling a lot. So, as I was exposed to more examples of the horror genre, I gradually became aware of the power of those narratives and the characters in those stories persevering and surviving, I think I was inspired by that.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LatinX characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I always try to incorporate Latinx characters and themes in my writing. I think the genre offers the unique opportunity to break away from a lot of stereotypes when it comes to telling our stories. Very often, stories about or featuring Latinx protagonists are expected to be immigrant narratives, or have to do with gang life, or the cartel. Since the horror genre is so varied and expansive, it has allowed me to tell the stories of Latinx protagonists transcend a lot of those expectations and stereotypes.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Writing horror has taught me that despite the hard and horrifying things that exist in the world and life, there are still beautiful and positive things to be found and celebrated. The horror genre has taught me about finding bravery in the face of the things that scare us the most. It’s taught me about resilience and the universality of the experience of being afraid. Being able to share and work through our fears is such a profound gift that the horror genre has to offer.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I’ve seen the horror genre continue to grow and expand in a lot of exciting ways. I think in general, we’re starting to realize that there is room and a desire for different types of stories and different types of voices. I hope that continues and I can only hope for that to be embraced as enthusiastically by the old guard of the genre (so to speak) as it is by the next generation of horror writers. Newer horror writers are drawn to the genre for a reason, they love it and want to honor and uplift the genre while telling stories that reflect their unique experiences. That will only make for a richer crop of narratives to be enjoyed by all.
How do you feel the LatinX community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
I can’t help but feel as though the Latinx community hasn’t really gotten as much representation as we might hope for. Not just in terms of the horror genre, but the media landscape overall. We’re in a difficult position because, by the very nature of the Latinx identity, many of us exist in an in-between space. From language, to racial identity, to the varied cultural identities and the multiple countries that make up Latin America, even the label of Latinx contains so many varied and different sub groups and opinions, it’s really hard to feel seen and it’s really hard for people outside of that to understand the complexities and nuances that are involved in belonging to such a cultural identity. Those complexities can make people want to disengage. They feel like it’s too much or too confusing to try and relate to our stories. So they either simplify and diminish us into stereotypes, or overlook and disregard us overall. My hope is that, Latinx creators continue to find their voice and fight to tell their stories so that we can show those complexities are not something to be afraid of, but that specificity and nuance are enriching and worthwhile. I hope that the more we show how varied the Latinx experience can be, the more our stories can find the audiences they so richly deserve.
Who are some of your favorite LatinX characters in horror?
Because outside of my work as a novelist, I write a lot of features and spend a lot of time in the Television and Film world, the first two that come to mind are Harvey Guillen’s Guillermo de la Cruz from “What we Do in the Shadows” and Ray Santiago’s Pablo Bolivar from “Ash vs. the Evil Dead.” And of course the various characters played by or ascendant scream queen, Jenna Ortega (Scream , The Babysitter: Killer Queen, X, Studio 666, and the upcoming Wednesday series). In terms of the literary world, Noemí Taboada from Mexican Gothic has become iconic and I have a soft spot in my heart for Anita Blake from the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series.
Who are some LatinX horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Of course Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Cina Pelayo is amazing and hails from Chicago, as I do. Gabino Iglesias is also great as is V. Castro. Guillermo del Toro is an amazing storyteller and has a number of books, mostly co-written with Chuck Hogan for the most part, but his non-fiction book, At Home with Monsters is pretty awesome if you’re a fan of his work.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
My advice would probably be to stay tapped into the reasons you love the horror genre. To stay connected to whatever the heart of the genre is for you, because what that is will probably change depending on who you ask. Also to never forget that the horror genre is really at it’s best when the storytelling is effective. Scares and gore are all well and good, but when those elements are combined with effective storytelling, it can’t be beat.
And to the LatinX writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Keep going. It often feels like, as a Latinx writer, we’re always failing to please someone. Personally, I’m Mexican American, and there’s always this pressure of not being Mexican enough, of not speaking Spanish well enough, combined with not being American enough, not being white. Don’t let that stop you. There’s an iconic scene in Selena (1997) that touches on the struggle of dealing with the dual sets of expectations that comes with being Latinx in the U.S., but the long and short of it is, just be you. That is enough. Pour that into your writing, and write the sort of stories that would have meant something for you as a reader. All the rest will sort itself out.