Latinx Heritage in Horror: Interview with Juan Manuel Pérez
Juan Manuel Pérez, a Mexican-American poet of Indigenous descent and the Poet Laureate for Corpus Christi, Texas (2019-2020), is the author of numerous poetry books including Another Menudo Sunday (2007), O’ Dark Heaven: A Response to Suzette Haden Elgin’s Definition of Horror (2009), WUI: Written Under the Influence of Trinidad Sanchez, Jr. (2011), Live From La Pryor: The Poetry of Juan Manuel Perez: A Zavala Country Native Son, Volume I (2014), Sex, Lies, and Chupacabras (2015), Space In Pieces (2020), Screw The Wall! And Other Brown People Poems (2020), Planet Of The Zombie Zonnets: Seasons One And Two (2021), Casual Haiku (2022), Christian Haiku For The Daily You (2022), Terror Of The Zombie Zonnets: Planet Of The Zombie Zonnets Season Three (2022), and Live From La Pryor: The Poetry of Juan Manuel Perez: A Zavala Country Native Son, Volume II: The Early Chapbooks (2022), as well as, the co-editor of the speculative poetry anthologies, Unleash Your Inner Chupacabra (2012, Archive Edition 2022) and The Call Of The Chupacabra (2018).
Both “Space in Pieces” and “Planet Of The Zombie Zonnets: Seasons One And Two” are Elgin Award Nominated Books through the Science Fiction And Fantasy Poetry Association.
Juan is also The 2021 Horror Authors Guild’s Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award winner and a recipient of a 2021 Horror Writers Association Diversity Grant.
He is the 2011-2012 San Antonio Poets Association Poet Laureate and the Lone Star State’s only El Chupacabras Poet Laureate (For Life), as well as a Zombie Texas Poet Of The Year.
The former Gourd Dancer for the Memphis Tia Piah Big River Clan Warrior Society is also a Pushcart Prize Nominee as well as a SEATTAH Scholar (Striving For Excellence And Accountability In The Teaching Of Traditional American History) through the University Of Dallas.
Juan is a ten-year Navy Corpsman/Combat Marine Medic (1987-1997) with experience in the 1991 Persian Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Desert Calm) attached to the 2nd Marines out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and was also a part of the 1992 Hurricane Andrew Relief Marine Air Group Task Force that went down to provide medical support to a devastated Homestead, Florida.
This two-time Teacher of the Year, along with his wife, Malia (a three-time Teacher of the Year and now Librarian), is a co-founder of The House of the Fighting Chupacabras Press.
The former migrant field worker previously from La Pryor, Texas currently worships his Creator, writes as well as conducts poetry and history workshops, and chases chupacabras in the Texas Coastal Bend Area.
To learn more about him got to https://www.juanmperez.com/
What inspired you to start writing?
My desire to express myself at a very young age just fresh from learning English as a second language, inspired me to read anything, to feel the emotion of inescapable love and then the hellish heartache of heartbreak, then to fall in love again but with science fiction, controversial alien theories (wrote a research paper on the Ancient Astronaut Theory in high school; got a 95 for it), horror (via my TV girlfriend: Elvira, Mistress Of The Macabre; she loved that younger me. I just know she did), Mexican digest-sized comic, American illustrated horror magazines (Warren Publishing), and the standard comic books (from which I learned English; Batman was my first English word around 2nd grade). Back to the horror of love poetry: yeah, my “love poems” weren’t strong enough juju to keep my girlfriend. So… speculative poetry became a natural and easy thing for that young me. “Damn the darkness! It’s so inspiring” [said me in a Mexican-accented Vincent Price voice]. Nowadays, among the fourth season of my Planet Of The Zombie Zonnets series, it’s not hard to be inspired by this beautiful decaying world and all its issues.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
Ethnic genetics is my best guess; The Mexican Indigenous are fatalistic by nature according to our mythology and multi-bordered, multi-leveled history. We are the Cosmic Race that have seen the glory and horror of superior entities, gods, and even colonizers in our multiple pasts much like the Greeks and other ancient ethnicities on all sides of the world during this epoch and perhaps even before. We naturally live with good and bad whether we admitted it or not (and not because of man-made religion). We choose to see it from either side in either way. We, humans, all have answers to righting the world. It just depends on how you go about it. Someone will likely lose (to their horror) and will step up to seek vengeance against the victor (to their horror). We are the epitome of horror to someone somewhere in this world no matter how beautiful our soul shines. That juxtaposition draws me to horror without even thinking much about it. I desire nothing much more than to thrive in it without letting the horror go beyond the page. While I am still in control… anyways.
Do you make a conscious effort to include Mexican Indigenous characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Yes, I do! As much as I can. It’s way past time. We, Brown/Red People, have stories to tell from our side, our point of view. Political, I know. Life is full of politics and drama no matter how you look at it. Personally, I don’t like using the terms Hispanic (that just means you speak Spanish; that could technically mean everybody nowadays; but most especially those that are actually from SPAIN; they get offended if you call them Mexican so it should work both ways) and Latino (when did we become Roman citizens? I thought their empire collapsed centuries ago; I thought they were the real Latin People). These colonizer labels were made official for Census taking just past the middle of the last century. I don’t identify as Hispanic or Latino or all its new inceptions for that reason, but I am still bunched in with them. They are me and I am them; the same brown, Indigenous people. However, because of the laws of my country, for whom I volunteered to defend as a Marine Corps Regulation Navy Corpsman, that does not recognize “the other cousins” to the Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, and so many other northern relatives separated by an invisible political border placed there by invading immigrants from European countries.
An example of this inclusion is the use of my spirit animal, el chupacabras, which I equate with el coyote (coyotl), the trickster, and Kokopelli (all the same). Where some in the last century (and even in this one) wrongly/badly associate the Brown People or People of Mexican descent to “cockroaches,” I convert their racisms ID to el chupacabras. Someone with a mysterious background always crossing, always migrating, always elusive, avoiding as much detection as possible, and perpetually taxing and stressing any and all forms of policing authorities. I know that what I say most of the time may seem offensive rhetoric to the un-opened minded, fair skinned colleges, but I tire of copious amount of white-splaining. I am just giving you the other side of the story. Do you think that they celebrate the US victory in the Mexican-American War over in Mexico for example? It was the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that created the first political definition of “Mexican-American.” There is also a reason that the Rio Grande has two names when it only had one before the 1800’s. So yes, el chupacabas is either the hero or the martyr throughout the numerous pieces I have written so far.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Honestly, that man is the purest definition of horror (and racism/classification). Everything else is an extension of his/her/their dreams that become someone else’s shared nightmares.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
There has been more inclusion… but not entirely enough yet. Personally (as I’m sure the majority of you do), I pour my dark Indigenous heart into my poetics… a lot, giving room to vibrant emotion, drama, all the real elements of life and then put it out there to the general speculative editors just to see a bland, uneventful poem about something hardly dark or interestingly morbid and is actually vividly minuscule, get the printed page, award, or poetic glory. It saddens me and I console myself into thinking that it is just my ego enraging or that it is the quiet jealousy germ eating away at me. Escalating sadly, I have even debated the effort to configure into and hiding behind a bland, white-sounding name to prove a point… but I wouldn’t be true to my brown, Indigenous self then, would I? I am what I am. How my Creator made me. I just want to be heard and read too, just like everyone else with Anglo-sounding does. Luckily, as much as I am a fatalist and I may sound negative to you, I am also an optimist. I feel it will get better for the major minority. It just has to.
How do you feel Mexican and Further Southern Clans/Ethnicities have been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
I will just say that it has not been fair enough but with the hope that it will get better. That what I say, is not seen just as some political, anti-racist rant and that it is simply a louder wake-up call. That there is more to history. That it should offend you into wondering about the things you were not told in your history class. That Mexicans are not the Mexicans that Hollywood and white-washed history say they are. Mexicans, and others further south, have a long, beautiful, cosmic, and mysterious history and our future is full of wonderful speculation as well as horror according to our own myths and stories. And we are not just those Mexicans. We are multiple tribes and clans under the umbrella of the word “Mexico” much like the Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, etc., are under the one called the “United States of America.” All of us, primos, but separated by a BS racist border. We have been migrating back and forth since the beginning of time. Believe me. It’s. That. Simple. You should be offended that you don’t know.
Who are some of your favorite characters in horror?
Easy, ese! They are “el chupacabras” (ditto), “la llorona” (the weeping woman), and “la lechusa” (owl-witch). And then the not as scary luchadores and their antics beyond the squared ring into defending the world against the paranormal and world-ending events. Hell, I’ll throw in “los zombies” too. That ain’t English they’re speaking you know; Old English, Appalachian, or otherwise.
Who are some horror authors in the same ethnic category you recommend our audience check out?
Outside of myself of course and the speculative genre (and even if they don’t or won’t defend my views), there is: David Boyles from el valle who writes a lot of speculative prose and what I also call “Mexican Indigenous Futurism” (he does that with prose, while I do it with poetry). Xavier Garza, also with ties to el valle but lives in San Antonio, writes and draws children and young reader books. He is also a great stand-up storyteller in a traditional form (he can recite his story per verbatim at speaking engagements). Manuel Ruiz, from the Texas Coastal Bend, writes some spooky stuff too. There are others and there needs to be more.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
As Joe R. Lansdale, someone one I love and read and listen to, would say: Read and Read and Read and Write and Write and Write. Get out there. Go to conferences. Meet writers and poets. Listen to what they say. Inspiration will come from a lot of these things. Eventually you will be a great author or poet (easily, better read, and more likable than I). So, publish and publish and publish. And if you find yourself out-of-stock/out-of-print, repackage and resale. If writing is what you depend on to pay the bills, then learn to do that. Why not, the porn industries repackages all the time and makes even more money (I said that, not Joe… and don’t ask me how I know).
And to the writers like you out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Keep a journal! Keep writing no matter how little it is some days! Keep reading others all the time! All that stuff you learned from elders, your Abuelos, you better write that down. Some of that is pretty speculative (or sketchy at least). It could possibly scare the crap out someone someday (if not just your kids) and people will pay you money for it! They’ll be like, Wow, that’s some heavy horror sh*t! Wow, that grossed over a million dollars! Wow, you’re famous, vato! All because you wrote something down and/or expanded on a common event that your Abuelos told you or you experienced yourself. Orale.