Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree is the silver medal winner in First Fiction from the California Book Awards. Fruit of the Drunken Tree was an Indie Next selection, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a New York Times editor's choice. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The Believer, Buzzfeed, Nylon, Guernica, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Camargo Foundation, the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, and the Writer’s Grotto. She is working on a family memoir about her grandfather, a curandero from Colombia who it was said had the power to move clouds.
She sits in a plastic chair in front of a brick wall, slouching. She is meek with her hair parted down the middle. There are almost no lips to be seen, but by the way she bares her teeth you can tell she is smiling. At first the smile seems flat but the more I study it, the more it seems careless and irresponsible. There is a bundle in her arms and a hole for the newborn’s face, which comes out red and wrinkled like an old person’s. I know it’s a boy because of the blue ribbon woven into the blanket edge; then I stare at the man behind Petrona. He is afroed and striking, weighing his cursed hand on her shoulder. I know what he’s done, and it turns my stomach but who am I to say whom Petrona should allow into a family portrait such as this?
Naomi Elias:...In the essay you wrote, “Being an immigrant is a malleable place, an in-between, a pending state. Through our oath, we were leaving that place. We were becoming something politically tangible.“ Can you expand on this meditation on immigrant identity and political tangibility?
Ingrid Rojas Contreras: When I was first in the U.S., I experienced being perceived as a Colombian, and then slowly I got to this point where I was perceived as an American, or a Colombian-American. When I would go back to Colombia — even though I grew up there, and spent my most formative years there, and at the time had only spent maybe five years abroad — my cousins and my family called me “the American one.” It was this slow process where I didn’t belong to either of the countries: I wasn’t yet an American citizen and my family in Colombia thought of me as a foreigner. I was very interested in the mathematics of that.
Contreras’s depiction of growing up amid such constant violence provides some of the most arresting passages in the book. I couldn’t help scribbling exclamation marks beside the descriptions of the games Chula and her sister play, in which unfortunate Barbies are brutally mutilated. Chula’s confusion about the nature and origin of the Colombian violence (“What was the difference between the guerrillas and the paramilitary? What was a communist? Who was each group fighting?”) effectively evokes the tricky history of Colombia’s conflict, its many actors and the fundamental horror of living in a country where the army shoots innocent civilians and falsely identifies them as guerrillas.