In Love with Being Human: ire’ne lara silva’s Hibiscus Tacos Depicts the Beauty in the Pain of the Human Experience

By: Leticia Urieta

Alabrava Press, $15.00, 2021, 53 pages. Paper

Reading Hibiscus Tacos is like stepping into the warm embrace of a friend while being constricted by the scales of an ancient creature that could kill you. Ire’ne lara silva’s storytelling is deeply familiar and yet unexpected. Her new chapbook is a bilingual edition, English and Spanish, of her short story, “Hibiscus Tacos,” previously published by The Rumpus. Silva worked with translator Julieta Corpus to make the story accessible to Spanish readers, giving the story a multifaceted narrative voice.

In Hibiscus Tacos, ire’ne lara silva weaves a beautiful story, while she asks her readers to consider what stories we come back to again and again, and why we need to tell them. The narrator and protagonist in the book is Death inhabiting the body of a middle-aged Mexican woman and taco truck owner. Their voice exists and shifts through time, across cultures and genders depending on the form and body they inhabit. One of the bodies Death occupies is Gloria’s, a queer woman, and taco truck owner, whose body and its capabilities Death covets. Gloria enacts the giving and taking of death. She is a deity who provides life-sustaining food, and community, around her taco truck. She greets people at the end of their life, ushering them to the next realm.

The character, Death having loved and helped the dead crossover throughout many centuries, explores the vulnerability of the human body. This version of death is not cold or unfeeling but has a deep recognition of bodies in pain; how pain strips people’s humanity and how this contrasts with the daily pleasures of a mortal life.

Silva mixes the ethos of a timeless being with the snark and bemusement of the narrator; especially in the descriptions of the customers they serve and in detailing what it’s like to be the owner of a vegan taco truck in an ever-gentrifying Austin, Texas.

This story is funny and beautifully tender. As someone from Austin who witnesses my community changing daily due to gentrification and income inequality, I enjoyed the way Austin is described: the little quirks of the city to the hybridity that many of the community members that Death serves represent. The author explores the varied cultural experiences of Mexican peoples that gather to eat at this taco truck, in a way that doesn’t oversimplify the characters. The exploration feels natural, as the narrator themselves embodies a hybridity of cultures, genders, and experiences the materiality of a mortal body yet chooses to be a part of the messiness of humanity.

Silva does not forget love in this story. Death, la Muerte, and the many other names they inhabit, falls in love with a mortal woman, Laurel, a nurse and caregiver who helps Death find the ones most in need of comfort while dying. In their relationship, we understand that although Death still has their powers, being inside a human body and allowing themselves to love and be loved by this woman helps them fall in love with mortality, with humanity, and the vulnerability of laying oneself bare to another being.

Leticia Urieta

Leticia Urieta (she/her/hers) is a Tejana writer from Austin, TX. She is a teaching artist in the greater Austin community and the Regional Program Manager of Austin Bat Cave, a literary community serving students in the Austin area, as well as the co-director of Barrio Writers

Austin and Pflugerville, a free creative writing program for youth. Leticia is also a freelance writer. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College and holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Texas State University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cleaver, Chicon Street Poets, Lumina, The Offing, Kweli Journal, Medium, Electric Lit, and others. Her chapbook, The Monster was published in 2018 from LibroMobile Press and her hybrid collection, Las Criaturas, is out now from FlowerSong Press.

Featured image by: Ahtziri Lagarde

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