Zoraida Córdova’s Reclaim the Stars Explores Social Injustices Through Magical Tales

If books offer an escape, few genres do so more purposefully than science fiction and fantasy. The rules get thrown out the window. Characters wield impossible abilities. New worlds showcase futuristic tech. But there are so many stories still to be told, especially from a Latinx perspective. 
To that end, Ecuadorian-American author Zoraida Córdova presents Reclaim The Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space, an anthology featuring works by Latinx authors that embrace magical powers, dark dystopias, family legacies, and first loves. 
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While the settings of these stories are otherworldly, the themes are relatable. Real-life injustices like colonialism, dictatorships, anti-Blackness, and xenophobia are explored through space, ghost stories, and magical realms. “Speculative fiction just really lends itself to the Latinx experience in many ways,” Córdova tells Refinery29 Somos. In fact, much of science fiction uses speculative subjects like robots and monsters to address contemporary social issues.
Reclaim The Stars brings together both seasoned and emerging writers, like Anne-Marie McLemore, Lilliam Rivera, Daniel José Older, and Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez, and includes queer, nonbinary, and immigrant voices from across Latin America and the diaspora to offer many entry points to readers. 
At times heartbreaking, endearing, and scary, the stories weave a tapestry of imaginative narratives. While Córdova didn’t give the writers a specific prompt beyond asking them to “explore your truth through science fiction and fantasy,” three major themes revealed themselves in the YA tales and inspired its sections: “To the Stars,” “The Magical Now,” and “Other Times, Other Realms.” 
Here, Córdova talks to Refinery29 Somos about her love of science fiction, Latinxs’ uncanny familiarity with dystopia, and why it’s important to dream. Reclaim The Stars is available where books are sold.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did the idea for the anthology come around? What were some of the challenges or surprises that you came upon when working on this book?
I'd been seeing these anthologies that grouped together different marginalized communities. For instance, A Phoenix First Must Burn by Patrice Caldwell is about Black girl magic and features stories that center Black girls and nonbinary people in fantasy, and A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman features essays that reimagine East and South Asian folklore and mythology. It was about late 2019, early 2020, before the pandemic, and I was looking for a Latinx anthology like this but couldn't really find one. There was one called Latin@ Rising, which was crowdfunded through a small press, but there wasn't one from a major publisher. So I felt like, why not just gather all of the writers that I know that are writing in this space and send out an invitation? And I did. Everyone said yes. 
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We also had a contest to find up-and-coming sci-fi writers, specifically Afro-Latinx authors. We ended up picking two winners instead of one because we just couldn't decide. I just saw this empty space in the big five publishing houses, and I felt like it’s time that somebody did it. Ten years ago, when I started publishing in 2012, I don't know if I would have been able to put together this anthology. It is a testament to how publishing is changing, even if it's painfully slow.
When you say 10 years ago you wouldn't have been able to do it, do you mean that publishing is just now coming around to things? Or do you mean where you were in your career?
Well, both. I've learned a lot as an editor. This is not my first anthology—it is my first solo anthology as an editor—but I did edit Vampires Never Get Old with Natalie C. Parker. Still, I needed practice as an editor.
But also in 2012, there were Latinx authors writing, but I couldn't find them in the publishing industry. I always remember tweeting, “Where are my Latinxs writing science fiction fantasy,” and I would get zero responses or people would give me books that were not by Latinx authors. I'm not saying that there weren't any Latinx authors publishing, but it wasn’t common in the science fiction/fantasy space specifically. Now, there are many more. Every year, there's a little bit more. It's a growing space. It's a space that has always been there because speculative fiction just really lends itself to the Latinx experience in many ways.
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Can you talk more about how you see the genre tying into Latinx culture? 
The reason why it lends itself to the genre is because it's almost like magic and superstition is embedded into our culture in many different ways. It's not really hard to imagine a dystopian situation for a place like Puerto Rico, which has been ravaged by the United States and Spain. One of the reasons why we do have a lot of short stories where we see this post-apocalyptic future, or this future where we have to leave this planet and go into the stars, or far, far away—like in Daniel José Older's story and Lilliam Rivera’s story—is because it's not hard to imagine that future when that's the present. Similarly, Mark Oshiro wrote a story about a prison outbreak in space, and it's not really that hard to imagine when you think of the prison pipelines in the country.
While it’s taking place in a different reality, it's so close to the current reality—and that's how it becomes easier to relate. As far as the fantasy aspect, in Claribel A. Ortega’s story, she reimagines the dictator [Rafael] Trujillo as a literal monster that needs to be vanquished by these three witch sisters. Magic, superstition, this apocalyptic feel—[it all] feels entrenched into our communities, whether it's by history or by current events.
Growing up, when I would look to sci-fi or fantasy, obviously from a very Western canon, just going to the bookstore, there wasn’t a lot of diversity. I always thought that was at odds with thinking about different worlds. Why are we in fantasy worlds and there still aren't characters of color? In this anthology, it felt so natural to read dialogue in Spanish, and references to different foods and places. I just didn't see this growing up.
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There are some great books out there, but at the same time, it's a little frustrating when you can't see yourself in these worlds and fantasy realms. You're expected to just identify with an elf or a hobbit, but people can't identify in the same way with people of color. That's just really frustrating because everybody belongs in fantasy worlds. Everyone should have a place as a hero or in a fantasy adventure.
There are a lot of themes that are relatable, like growing pains. “White Water, Blue Ocean” by Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez was fascinating because there's this theme of people around you being angry when you question things, even when it's the truth about your personal history and origin. Same thing with “Creatures of Kings” by Circe Moskowitz. 
I actually love that you singled those out because those are our two contest winners. That exploration through fantasy is just an example of how versatile the genre actually is when you change the lens. I know that Circe and Linda are both writing from Afro-Latinx experiences and backgrounds. What really drew me to their stories is this idea that we all have power, but everyone around us is trying to tamper that down or stop us from becoming a better version of ourselves, or claiming this ability to just exist.
In Circe's story her identity is questioned by these people. And in Linda's story, it's more rooted to the real world. There is that aspect of discrimination within our own families, but it's then relying on myth and supernatural forces to help us when the real people around us can't. That's something that's very powerful.
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Who did you have in mind when putting the anthology together? Or maybe, who would you be most excited to see holding your book out in the world?
Every book that I write, or assemble, is sort of for a younger version of myself or a future version of myself. It’s for the version of me that was 13 and didn't want to read The House on Mango Street for the 17th time because the teacher told me that I should read it. And that’s no shade to the author; it's an important book. But I wanted fantasy; I wanted magic. I wanted to belong in these worlds that I loved. I thought of that version of myself. To this day, I still have people who tell me that I'm their first Latina author that they've read. And I'm like, how is that even possible? When I speak to my colleagues, I discover that we all get these types of comments. I know it's discoverability, but, also, if a library is not carrying our work or teachers don't know that we exist, then kids won't be able to know that they can write fantasy and science fiction.
I want everyone to be able to come into this anthology and find a story. And I think that you will. There's something for everybody in here. But I want somebody to have that same experience that I had. The reason I became a writer was because I read a book called In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, who wrote her novel when she was 13 and published it through Random House when she was 14. Similarly, I want readers to know that you have the ability to do something, whether it's write, dream, or create.

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