Meet the Queer Latina Behind 2016’s Dopest LGBT YA Book, 'Juliet Takes a Breath'

Meet the Queer Latina Behind 2016’s Dopest LGBT YA Book, 'Juliet Takes a Breath'
Julieta Salgado

There’s a part early in the book, after Juliet comes out and is distraught by her mother’s reaction, where she analyzes the situation and notes that she is still loved. You write, “I checked myself. I saw our family in her eyes. She wasn’t throwing me away.” This really stood out to me because I think it’s common for queer Latinx folks. Like, I don’t want to homogenize us and say this is everyone’s experience, but I have noticed, even in a household steeped in homophobia or transphobia, there is love. A Pentecostal mami, tía or abuela will rebuke something you do in the name of Jesus but still let you know you are perfect and are the apple of her eye.

Right. Like you said, I can’t speak for all Latinx people, especially not for those who are undocumented and are in more complicated situations, but I can speak from my experience. I wanted to honor my mom. It wasn’t easy for her when I came out, but she never took her love away from me, ever. There’s this narrative of “you need to accept me now or you don’t love me” that’s infused in media, and, yes, you have to accept people, but everyone is allowed to go through their own process, as long as it doesn’t serve to abuse or neglect you. My mom is allowed to doubt, be uncertain and to grieve, because she is human – as long as she doesn’t strip me of love. In writing that coming-out scene, I talked to my mom because I wanted her input, too. It was terrifying and beautiful, but what she told me was this: “nena, don’t’ make her flip out. Remember, I just got quiet.” There is strength in being quiet. But, to your point, I do see that. I know ‘hood dyke Latinas who are their mother’s fave, the one who all the kids flock to at family parties. It may not be the most gay-friendly environment, but that person is loved and is a strong part of the family.

Let’s talk about representation, because this book includes characters of various identities occupying diverse academic, professional, regional and class spaces.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure this book is as realistically diverse and representative as possible. I wanted to show what it means to be half-Jewish and half-Puerto Rican, to be a middle-class Latina who lives in a ‘hood where there are Black and brown working-class and poor folks, to have a brother who is super smart and a little nerdy. I sat down and was like, “where can I place these people that it makes sense?” I didn’t want to token any identity, but I didn’t want to make the fear of tokenization prevent me from naming folks. For instance, Maxine is based on one of my mentors, who is a Black theologian. So, I thought, how can I do her justice? I’ve been told her character is too scholarly or sounds like a women’s studies professor, but I know this person in real life, and she really is always on her academic A-game, so I created a character like that. The fact that current queer LGBTQ culture and conversations are centered on identity, all of this was super intentional. I wanted to create something where anyone can pick up the book and say “I feel that” and “I see myself here.”

As a Boricua woman myself, I got mad hype when I saw Juliet’s last name was Palante. Can you explain the importance of giving her this surname?

Palante is not a last name. It’s a rally cry to move forward. I don’t know the exact origin, but I know the Puerto Rican revolutionary group the Young Lords used it. They’d say: “palante, siempre palante!” or “forward, always move forward.” That’s so deep to me. Our people, we get stuck. Many of us never leave the block, the Bronx or a certain mindset, believing we can only be a certain way, live a certain way, wear certain clothes. There are huge systems trying to control what we are doing; yet, at our core, our people have always said to raise your brown and black fists, march on and move forward. That’s the legacy behind her last name.

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