I met Gabriela Garcia a few weeks ago in a Manhattan coffee shop after she returned from a trip to Cuba. After handing over some gifts she’d brought back for my husband from his son, who lives in Havana, we talked about Cuba, Cuban families, the writing life, and social justice.
The short conversation left me wanting to know more about Gabriela, so we did this interview over email.
You’re a full-time freelance writer. How did you get started in the field, and what did you do before this?
Even though writing has always been a part of my life, it took me a while to arrive at doing it as a profession. I always knew I wanted to work in media. Before becoming a freelance writer, I held some crazy jobs and internships all over the media landscape, from working with multi-platinum artists in the music industry to researching photos for RL Stine books (remember Goosebumps?)
New York is a really expensive place to live so I took on a lot of freelance gigs as side jobs along the way, mostly through contacts I’d made in the various companies I worked for. In my last job at a book publishing company, I realized I was doing so much freelance work on the side that it suddenly struck me that it was possible to leave the office altogether.
And well, I did.
I started off mostly writing service pieces for consumer magazines and taking on a lot of proofreading and copy editing jobs. Being a travel writer always seemed like one of those fantasy jobs like saying I wanted to be a “rock star” or something. Matador offered that first window of opportunity that opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me.
It has been far from easy, and I still have to take on a lot of other projects to make ends meet, but I’m watching with incredible gratitude as the fantasy slowly merges into reality.
You commute back and forth between Miami and New York. If someone asks you, “Where’s home?,” what’s your answer?
I think that being a multi-cultural daughter of immigrants has made me very comfortable with fluid identity. I’m used to belonging and not belonging at the same time, and having pieces of who I am tied into different physical locations. New York provides me with incredible creative energy, inspiration, and motivation, but Miami is like a long exhale that keeps me grounded. I would have to say that both are home to a different part of me.
Back to writing– what I love about your work is that you tend to tell stories about overlooked people and you insert yourself into the story in this lovely way that’s not egotistical but is, as Matador editor David Miller says, transparent. In my women’s studies classes we called that “positioning yourself as the writer,” which meant we were acknowledging that objectivity doesn’t really exist. Do you feel like this is an accurate description of your writing style? And what influences you to write in this way?
I think that acknowledging objectivity doesn’t really exist is important, especially in travel writing. The same place can look a million different ways through different eyes. The way I experience a place, the things that stand out to me, the way I interpret those experiences—they are all based on who I am, and I like to let my readers know that.
I think the majority of people experience most of the world through media, and so much of what we think we know is based on the observations of a select group of people.
I’m constantly amazed at how few places, cultures, or people match up to the collective images I’ve received all my life of what they are supposed to be like once I actually go there or get to know them. I know I can’t give anyone a voice, but I’m immediately attracted to people and ideas that provoke me, that spur up questions in me, or that challenge me to look at things differently.
Are there any seminal travel experiences that have caused you to rethink who you are or that have shaped your direction in life?
I think every travel experience has shaped parts of who I am and what I care about. But if I had to choose specific moments where I looked around and felt the ground shift beneath me, it would probably be based on my volunteer experiences.
Reading the essays of school children from a rural village in Ghana who say they have no dreams. Sitting beside the bed of a dying woman picked off the street in Calcutta, India and suddenly feeling her hand grip mine. Standing amidst wild horses and canyons in the Navajo Nation and realizing that running water and electricity aren’t a given in the United States.
The constant juxtaposition of beauty and pain that I have experienced in my travels has left me dizzy and searching for answers. They are the images that constantly make me question my own life and how I can be a more positive force.
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