This week Gloria Bueno’s The Shift, book two in a series of Curses will be released at the Baltimore DIY Fest. The Shift continues Curses’s intertextual, cavalcade of references to popular culture and mysticism, except where book one featured Bueno’s unique cauldron of Salvadorian and Tex-Mex anxieties in relation to Catholic morals, gender inequalities, and a search for answers from a sometimes unsympathetic masculine higher power, The Shift finds empowerment in popular culture and fantasy. Along with La Virgen de Guadalupe, there is a feminist hero and savior in Sailor Moon. Bueno’s writing continues to evoke the work of someone struggling to communicate their deepest fears, regrets, and hope. It’s almost as though we’ve stumbled upon a journal—or glorified zine—completely sincere and raw.
Earlier this summer, Sybil Press caught up with Bueno in San Antonio, Texas. Below is an edited interview covering the subjects of Lady Gaga, witchcraft, and mimes.
(Norberto Gomez, Jr. 8/29/16)
Sybil Press: Tell us about The Shift.
Gloria Bueno: The Shift is escaping the morals and reality of religion and it goes more into the fantasy realm. You know how we have religions and rules and we have things that we have to follow, I just kind of wanted to take away from me stressing about, “Am I doing the right thing?” or, ya know, “Is God real?” I just kind of wanted to escape that and go into something more fantasy that keeps me a little bit more sane and I am not stressing about, “Am I doing the right thing? Is my soul being saved? Am I going to hell? Am I going to heaven?”
SP: And you’re talking about Catholicism? You were raised devoutly?
B: My mom never really stressed it. She was a Jehovah’s Witness for maybe like three years, but she did stress about teaching god. And I went on my own when I was younger and I would go to different churches: Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, Lutheran Church, Mormon Church on my own to figure out what was the difference or what was the right path and I just found out on my own that there’s no—they all conflict with each other…
So like for a while I would stress about it so much, to where I would let people take advantage of me or—
SP: What do you mean?
B: You know how they say be the better person or do the right thing?
SP: Turn the other cheek?
B: Yeah, and you just let people constantly walk over you. So it’s like you know you kind of go into this thing well if god is real, you wouldn’t have these people backstabbing you. Or you wouldn’t have tragedies. Which is what Curses is about because last year I had umm last year was just a really bad year. So it felt like a curse—and you know people are always trying to find ways to heal and me stressing out the right way to heal was kind of—starting to become unhealthy because I just kept stressing about it. Ya know, am I doing something wrong that I’m not healing right? Or is this just karma? How do I get rid of karma? …Am I not worthy of god? What am I doing wrong that he’s not blessing me? …Religion is kind of like a fantasy but it’s also like a reality and so I kind of just wanted to escape from that and just go to fantasy where I don’t have to stress about that that I m just free. So I go into the world of painting, or mime, or clown art or mythology or you know things like stories from artists like Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Rice and so—it’s an escape. You’re not stressed about where you belong in the world or if you’re even going to heaven or hell if they exist. Or if you’re on the right path in your life in general or if you’re not gonna succeed in life. You’re just kind stuck in this world where you’re just free.
SP: Where is your mom from? Or her family?
B: My mom is from El Salvador.
SP: And your dad?
B: My dad, he was born in Oklahoma, but he has a lot of Indian and mixed-Mexican blood in him. But he doesn’t believe in god—oh, I mean he does believe in god, but he believes that the god I believe in is weak. And he’s not—like if he was real he would help his people. So my dad has this, his religion is the Viking, the Nordic religion, the Norse religion.
SP: How did he get involved in all that? He was in Texas when he got involved in it?
SP: And there are still people who practice that, those religions but how did he connect with it in South Texas, which seems so far away from all that?
B: I think—I really don’t know how he got involved with it but I kind of believe maybe he went through a lot to where he turned against ya know the normal Christian god and he was looking for something else.
SP: For some of the concerns that you mention too, so in a way y’all were both searching and struggling, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye on certain things.
B: [laughs] A lot of things we don’t see eye-to-eye. So he would do the ceremonies and his rituals usually once a year. I can’t recall when the time frame is or when he does the ritual. But he usually prepares a bunch of food, and he grills it, and he goes under a tree because in the Nordic religion the tree is their main symbol. And so he goes under it and he has this cloth and it has the symbols of Odin. And he also has a golden hammer that has like symbols that represent Odin engraved into them. So he’ll usually do the ritual for about two hours and he just prays for two hours straight while the food is cooking. It’s like an offering to Odin…
So growing up it was different. My mom wasn’t super Catholic but she just stressed on god. She wasn’t a certain religion. She kind of herself tried to find out which was the right way. And she gave up. She’s like, “You know what if that’s something you want to believe in, believe in it. I’m not gonna like force you to be a certain religion because I can’t even identity with a certain religion other than that I love god.” So she was a normal Christian and my dad is the complete opposite—he’s into the Viking religion, he’s into Odin, Thor—
B: Yeah, and so we—even as a little girl, when I would pray to god, he, I don’t know why his mentality was the way it was, but he would tell me,“You know your god’s weak. If your god really cared about you or cared about the world he wouldn’t have these people suffering,” and I remember being maybe 13 years old and finally telling him, “Well if your god existed too, then this wouldn’t happen.”
Even though I liked comics at the time, because my dad brought me up with comics, it was just a jab to get back at him by saying, “Well at least my god isn’t in a stupid comic book.” You know, I was just basically telling him yours is more fantasy than mine is.
SP: So that takes us to the fantasy of The Shift again. When you were growing up did you watch a lot of, was it animations? You mention comics books, was that part of what helped you feel comfortable?
B: It’s what saved me. Which is weird too because my dad was the one who introduced me to anime and to comics. And it’s just weird how we connect in that but with religion it just completely separated us. Anime, comics, art, writing is what—and theater, it’s what saved me. If it wasn’t for that then I probably would not be here, to be honest.
SP: What are some animations that were really impactful to you and around how old were you when you started getting into some of these things that saved you?
B: I started young. When I started watching Sailor Moon. [laughs]
SP: I know people who are into Sailor Moon. What’s the premise of it, because I’ve actually never seen any of it? What’s the story? What are they about?
B: It’s basically this group of girls and they used to each live on their own planet. They were princesses of their own planet. And the main character, Sailor Moon, she was the princess of the Moon and she’s in charge of all the planets. The bad queen comes in and destroys everything and they’re reborn on earth. So they’re human. They don’t recollect any of their past memories as princesses or warriors. Sailor Moon is this clumsy girl, who’s so ditzy, and not doing well in school, but she has a good heart and she’s very funny. So I could relate to her character. It deals with a lot of these girls going through their own struggle but they turn out to have this power inside them and they overcome these obstacles.
SP: What else?
B: Superheroes, Godzilla. It just has to deal a lot with finding that power inside yourself to overcome these obstacles. That’s why I was into superheroes because a lot of superheroes have dark stories. Tragedies always happen to them. So I could relate to superheroes because I’ve gone through several tragedies and I think to myself sometimes how am I still here?...
SP: The female aspect of Sailor Moon is important. Like you said it’s sort of empowering to be a woman and is there something feminist about it, I wonder? And I am thinking about in your first book here, Ritual Milagros, this one passage, where you write:
In her beliefs she was taught “Father, Son and The Holy Spirit.” Would it be a sin to think for just one second that maybe the spirit “Our Father” may not understand these situations for he is considered to be male, not female like us? To think about it, She was abandoned and rejected by her earthly father. Is it the same? Is it wise to connect gender to a supreme? Could this explain un-answered prayers? “Was I to look elsewhere?” She has heard of many myths and legends of a woman who was connected to this God. Maybe there is truth to this woman. Curiosity struck her.
I think that’s a really powerful passage. The godhead figure in various religions is typically, in more Western contemporary culture, it’s very male-centric. And that wasn’t the case for a lot ancient religions. A lot of the goddesses, whether of the Moon or something like that, those tended to be the most powerful. For some reason things seemed to have become more male. The three main Abrahamic religions—the younger religions seem to be more phallocentric—all about the penis. I think it’s interesting to understand you as saying, “I’m praying to this person that’s supposed to understand me, to help me, but it’s this dude. Does this dude really understand what I need?” That’s why I think the Virgin de Guadalupe plays a large role in this. Do you want to talk about that also? What does it mean for you as a woman?
B: When I was battling with whether I should continuing to believe in god or not, I thought to myself why, other than am I not worthy, is it because he’s not gentle enough? Is he more harsh, like more, kind of more—not as sympathetic? When I would read up on the Virgin Mary or I would see people post things, they would always say that she leads you towards god, or she convinces god to have more mercy on you, or to bless you because she has that nurturing, mother presence and power. When I started recognizing and acknowledging her more I just felt that maybe she would understand my position as a woman, as a daughter trying to help my mom, trying to surpass this tragedy. My mom was going through a lot so I kind of thought ya know maybe the Virgin Mary does understand my mother’s side too… So I just thought that maybe the Virgin Mary would understand us as a female, as a daughter, and as a mother. That’s why I started leaning towards her more.
SP: The story of La Virgen de Guadalupe or, “La Reina de Mexico” is a strange one isn’t it? The Virgin Mary appeared in the New World, in Mexico. She had roses that she gave to an indigenous peasant in the form of a cloak. It was a blend of the native religion with Christianity that’s been brought to the New World. Your book, your poems and ideas of religion and fantasy are that kind of multiculturalism—mixing in the mythologies, the religion with native ideas. In Curses you’re talking about these practices like la limpia—that’s not traditionally Christian at all. That would have been heretical centuries ago to European Christians. This is not part of the religion.
B: It means you’re a witch. [laughs]
SP: Right, but being that we have kind of the same, somewhat similar ethnic background, cultural background, we know that we have witch doctors and stuff.
B: Yeah, healers.
SP: Healers that are mediums communicating and doing god’s work on earth. That’s really interesting because of that weird blend. You start off with Ritual Milagros being more religion based but with that mix of South Texas mythology. The next one, The Shift, you’re talking more about pop culture and some other things.
B: A lot of love poem… I did one about Greek mythology, also another Nordic poem kind of relating to my dad...
SP: What about your Lord of the Rings one? It’s written in Elvish.
B: Lord of the Rings too, big fan of Lord of the Rings. It’s just a short poem. It’s about an elf just describing their surroundings: the throne, him aging, well not really aging—he’s ageing by years but not by appearance—and how they love nature…
SP: What about this illustration: