Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How Being Bullied Lead to Becoming an Author

by Sandra Ramos Sandoval

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, I attended barrio schools and was bullied for my O’Briant surname. My classmates refused to believe my mom was Latina. Being a 50/50 was not easy. A bullied child is an isolated child, and reading was my escape. Not only did it allow me to learn about other cultures, but books led me on a journey into our human past and even into the future. What I learned is that there is more that humans have in common with one another than what racially, ethnically or culturally separates us. The kids who bullied me acted out of ignorance that had been passed down for generations. I was lonely, but gained strength from my isolation; I learned to make my own path.
Sandra at about age 11

My first novel, The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood, won two literary awards. It tells the story of Anglo encroachment on New Mexico as they made real their vision of Manifest Destiny.

My historical research led to an examination of war, class, education, the role of women, religion and superstition during the Mexican American War. Santa Fe, NM, an area now known as an artistic and tourist mecca, was the first foreign capital conquered by the U.S. It had a profound impact on the people there.

The war is the backdrop for the Sandoval sisters' individual coming-of-age stories in which they cope with racism, sexism, political intrigue and the power of superstition. The eldest sister, Oratoria, was a Mexican peasant adopted into the family. The other two sisters can trace their heritage back to Spain. 

Alma runs off with a Texan and experiences racism while living with his family. She is also gifted/afflicted with the “Sandoval memories.” The youngest sister, Pilar, insists on wearing men’s clothes and working with horses. All of these family attributes set them apart from the people (la gente) in their community and make them targets when the war wreaks havoc and loss.

Over 20 of my short stories have been published. Some stories don’t have identifiable Latino characters. Against the Rules, which tells the fictionalized story of how I met my husband, does not. Personal Power does. What both stories have in common are strong voices and characters who are about to defy the odds. Not all of my stories have erotica in them, but when they do there might be a bit of sexual fluidity, as with Pilar in The Sandoval Sisters.

The sequel to The Sandoval Sisters focuses on the O’Reilly siblings, Alexandra and Phil, orphaned and found wandering on the Santa Fe Trail. The Sandoval sisters adopt them (this part is family legend; my maternal grandmother was a Sandoval.)

Alexandra: “Their blood was not our blood, but we became Sandovals . . . they were set apart, and so were Phil and I. Our Anglo last name disappeared and we became the Sandoval children on every legal document of that time, but we were not la gente. We were the children of the Sandoval witches. The community would not forget the old blood.”

Sandra Ramos Sandoval grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico and spent summers in Texas with herdad.  Before her switch to writing, she was an executive recruiter in the legal field.


Arletta Dawdy said...

I am impressed with how you turned your harsh childhood experiences into powerful and enlightening fiction. Thank you!

Sandra Ramos O'Briant said...

Thank you, Arletta. I turned to reading and the world of imagination offered an escape. I'm not the first author to have found that lifeboat.