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Lit Latinidad and Juliana Delgado’s “Fiebre Tropical”

Oct. 28, 2020
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I became Latina two years ago, when I left Latin America to study at an American university. There’s a strange guilt that creeps up behind me whenever I say American anything, porque obvio, America is Canada and Bolivia and Brazil and Peru too. But y’all are not ready for that conversation yet. 

Two years ago I packed my bags and as soon as I did, Latinidad began haunting me. The haunting began when I was just thinking about college outside of Latin-American borders, because as I filled my college applications, I had to tick off “Hispanic” for the first time. The haunting continued after I got accepted to my American university, too. There, the Latino interest groups, Latino parties, Latino nights, Latino everything began. And there it was: I had been trapped in Latinidad. So, I had to do some research to find out what Latinidad was. It couldn’t just be fried plantains, tacos, thick thighs, and Bad Bunny. Thing is, I never really understood Latinidad, and I still don’t—because there isn’t any one way to understand it. Latinidad is broad and deep and diverse. In America, there’s a pretty big buffet of Latinx identities and since I didn’t know anything about them, I started reading. That’s how I ran into Juliana Delgado’s Fiebre Tropical.

It's not common to run into a Spanish title in an American bookstore, so when I spotted it, I grabbed it, bought it, took the L, made myself lunch, and read it in one go. 

Fiebre Tropical is a story of queer-femme-goth-teenage-Latino-immigrant angst that made me wish I could go back in time to 2015 and become Tumblr friends with its narrator, Francisca—a Colombian 15-year-old forced by her mom to move to Miami. Her family seemed to be doing alright in Bogotá, but her mom was shooting for the Star-Spangled Banner, so they left for a tiny apartment in swampy Florida. 

Francisca is skinny, pale, and emo. She smokes cigarettes and doesn’t give a fuck. She fails to fit the spicy mami stereotype. Francisca doesn’t know anyone from an ambiguous drug cartel; she isn’t curvy and picante; she isn’t walking miles down a dirt road to get to school; she doesn’t have 12 siblings and 20 thousand cousins; she does not listen to “Gasolina”; her Spanglish isn’t wrong. But most importantly, Francisca doesn’t want America—she wants her friends on the other side of the phone and a cig. 

But in America, amid all the angst and hate for this fiebre tropical, something beautiful happens. In the gay-hating Church, Francisca finds her path to both God and pussy. Strangely, they’re the same path and they are led by Carmen, the pastor’s daughter. Carmen is a pimply Colombian queen-bee church girl. Through her queer journey, Francesca tells us about not only her story but her mother’s and grandmother’s, showing us the trifecta of personalities that Latina women are made up of: la mamá, la abuela, y una misma. 

It made sense to me. Me acordé de la foto we took before my high school graduation—my mom, my grandma, and me. I remember writing my first creative writing assignment at my American university in Spanglish, like Francisca. My professor thought it was a statement. Gringos like the word “statement” almost as much as they like “bold” and “resilient.” I was confused until I realized that our English, interrupted by Spanish clutches—pero like, you know what I mean—was considered bold like our red lips and hoop earrings. And when we write like we speak, many people think it's a statement. Of what? I’m not sure. Personally, I don’t think it's bold or a “statement” to write in Spanglish. It's orgullo, and I call it writing with integrity. Delgado does it well—so well that not just any Latino will understand its nuances. Only the Latinos that come from the sub-sub culture she writes about. 

Let Francisca give you a sneak peak into one of the buffet options of Latinidad. I cannot leave without thanking Delgado for her book. Así que gracias. Do yourself a favor and go to a bookstore, grab Fiebre Tropical, and read it, Cachaco.