El Día del Guajolote: A Chicana Fable for Thanksgiving

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Courtesy / Gary Perkins

Regina Moya

Both Regina Moya’s writing and her life are a blend of two cultures. Her childhood in Mexico City was interrupted by a period of living in Philadelphia from the age of 2 to 6. This was the perfect age to become fluent in both Spanish and English, and to absorb some of the culture of the United States.

Fast forward to 2003, and a project in San Antonio, slated to last six months to one year, has turned into 13 years to date. Now she is happily ensconced in her King William home with her husband, Juan Fernandez, and their three children.

Growing up, it fell to Moya, the second of five children and one of 30 grandchildren, to organize the pastorals (plays) created to entertain the family during holiday posadas. She used her rich imagination to write the dialogue, full of humor and often containing parodies of her elders.

Moya went on to study communication, literature, and creative writing. She wrote her first novel when she was 20 years old. She announced to her family that she had written it, but was not going to let anyone read it yet. The budding author registered the book in Mexico, but did not pursue its publication.

Three years later, at her wedding, her father surprised her by announcing a secret. While packing up her belongings for the move to her new home, her parents found the manuscript she had hidden, and they loved the story. To Moya’s great surprise, they had found a publisher, and her father presented the printed version of Memorias de dos mujeres mexicanas (sic) (2002) to her at her wedding reception. Moya told the Rivard Report that she read it over and over during her honeymoon and told herself that she needed to become a serious writer.

Her second novel, Donde Anidan las Palomas (Where the Doves Nest), was published in 2003, followed by a 10-year period during which she fell short of writing a novel per year, as she had set out to do. However, the time was not wasted, as she eventually came to realize through thorough reflection.

In between the demands of motherhood, she wrote articles for AEM Magazine, a publication for Mexican entrepreneurs. These were primarily colloquial and humorous in nature and intended for other Mexicans settling in the U.S.

Moya’s interest in children’s literature began to bud, but she was not confident that she would find an illustrator for her writing. She was fortunate to meet Lina Cuartas, a children’s book author and illustrator who was born in Colombia but now lives in San Antonio. Cuartas took Moya under her wing and taught her illustration. Moya also took classes at the Southwest School of Art and at Gemini Ink.

While perfecting her skills, she participated in the Writers in Communitiesa program sponsored by Gemini Ink. She was able to teach writing and painting to migrant children in detention, to kids in juvenile detention, to high school dropouts and to incarcerated, pregnant moms, among others.

Despite her many pursuits, Moya was frustrated that she was not writing novels. She gave herself a one-year deadline to start a novel, but was plagued by writer’s block as she stared at her computer screen. On the day before her deadline, Nov. 27, 2015, she began to panic. Her large family from Mexico was due to arrive in San Antonio, where she was expected to provide them with a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Swamped with a seemingly endless to-do list, she was forced to sit in court for a traffic citation, stewing and beating herself up for not meeting her goal. She overheard a high-pitched, verbally abusive grandmother berating her children and grandchild, using bad words in Spanish.

That was when Moya heard a voice in her head that told her, “this woman would make a great character in your novel.” She named this character Obdulio, inspired by a teacher she despised when she was in elementary school.

51rnarpivol-_sx331_bo1204203200_The resulting creation is Turkey Day (El Día del Guajolote), published in Spanish this year. The English edition of Turkey Day will soon be available.

While writing, Moya felt jealous of the characters that were coming alive in her story, so she decided to make herself the main character as she entwined her love for cooking and food into each chapter.

The result is a hilarious story in the style of magic realism, blending the everyday narrative with elements of fantasy and dreams. The cover is one of Moya’s illustrations and might lead readers to think the story is appropriate for children. Be forewarned, it is an adult book filled with “colorful” language – or cuss words, to call a spade a spade.

In 2016, Moya was invited to participate in a book series in Mexico City. The lecturer made a Power Point presentation about El Día del Guajolote, analyzed the story, and came up with a different point of view: She concluded that the author was not Mexican. Moya was visibly taken aback. The presenter went on to explain that the writer was not U.S. American either, but definitely bicultural. She labeled Moya’s book a contribution to Chicano literature, as the spirit of the book is a blend between two cultures on the border.

The Instituto Cultural de México hosted a book presentation on Friday, Nov. 4 to introduce Moya and her newest work to the community. On the top of the guest list was King William resident and fervent supporter of artists, Mike Casey, who also join the panel discussion. Casey, who is fluent in Spanish, read the proposed English translation and gave Moya feedback on the language and references to San Antonio. Also on the panel was Sheila Black, the executive director of Gemini, Ink and her translator, Glenn Gardner.

Just in time for the holidays, do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of Turkey Day and take a big bite out of the Mexican/American Thanksgiving tradition that hometown talent Moya so lovingly and “colorfully” depicts. 

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