One Latina journalist wanted to explore the controversial topic of immigration, all while adding her own terrifying spin to it.
Sabrina Vourvoulias’ new novel, Ink, is a fictional take on what happens when biometric tattoos are approved to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with “recent immigration history.” Set in a rural U.S. town, Ink explores the lives of four people and how they attempt to have their voices heard. Fox News Latino speaks with the Guatemalan-American author about her many inspirations, connecting tattooing to immigration, and how magical realism plays a vital role in sharing her story.
What prompted you to write this novel?
I ran across a small newspaper article about an undocumented immigrant who worked with a landscaping company in Westchester County, who had been ‘given a ride’ by a couple of guys on the way home from work one day. Except they took him over the border into Connecticut and dumped him there without money, cell phone or any identification, but with the warning to stay out of their state. And, according to the article, he wasn’t the first undocumented immigrant to experience this sort of ‘border dumping.’ The story so horrified and fascinated me it turned into the impetus for me to write fiction -- and to push what I knew undocumented immigrants were already experiencing.
Talk more about the connection you made between tattooing and immigration.
I wanted something readily visible to mark the “inks” — as people with the tattoos come to be called — because it parallels what is already in play in terms of enforcement of laws like SB 1070 in Arizona. Even more so, Ink is a book, at its core, about collective memory. I don’t think it’s possible for most of us to think of imposed tattooing without thinking about the Holocaust and the survivors of that hideous period in human history. And when I see Sheriff Joe Arpaio marching his imprisoned undocumented prisoners through the streets of Maricopa County, dressed in their prisoner stripes and subject them to humiliation and the jeers of the townspeople who have gathered to watch, I feel like I might be watching the first moments of history repeating itself.
Ink features four characters narrating the story. Which one did you identify with the most and why?
I invested each narrative voice with aspects I identify with. Finn is a journalist like me. Del lives in a cabin off the electrical grid in a stretch of woodland he feels tremendously connected to, which I did for some three years. Abbie is daughter who loves her mother, but rebels against much of what she represents. The one I identify with most is Mari because we both share ties to Guatemala and the United States.
How does your upbringing in Guatemala play a vital role in Ink?
It’s been sixteen years since the peace accord was signed in Guatemala, and they’re only now beginning to see some of the perpetrators of the genocide arraigned for trial. Even so the government of Otto Pérez Molina — himself a member of military during the time when all the atrocities were being committed — has declared there was no genocide. It’s really been through the efforts of the indigenous survivors from some of the massacres, and a number of really brave young Guatemalan journalists and writers, that the voices of those seeking justice and reconciliation are heard.
When did you realize you wanted to incorporate magical realism, a form of writing several Latino authors have also used?
I’ve always loved work that incorporates the fantastical into a richly observed narrative with memorable characters — the work of writers like Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Miguel Angel Asturias, in particular, holds the combination I really want to achieve: part incantation, part politics, part walking myth. I think it’s limiting, though, to think all Latino writers are magic realists. Some are, some aren’t. We should all be allowed to fly where we will.
What’s next for you?
I’m just beginning to think about and toy around with ideas for another book. Check back in another six months!