Latina Author Ingrid Rojas Contreras Talks About Her Curandero Family Memoir

The Latina Author Ingrid Rojas Contreras Talks About Her Curandero Family Memoir belatina latine
Credit: Instagram/ @i__rojascontreras

With Miami Dade College’s Miami Book Fair 2022 right around the corner, we’re diving deeper into this year’s featured Latine authors! For those who don’t know, this year’s Miami Book Fair 2022 will take place on November 13 to November 20 at Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus.

Last week, we highlighted Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s “Woman of Light: A Novel.” Today, we are showcasing Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ memoir entitled “The Man Who Could Move Clouds.” Rojas Contreras will be reading on Sunday, November 20 at 11 a.m.

“The Man Who Could Move Clouds” captures Rojas Contreras’ family’s generational magic. It’s the story of the magic of her grandfather and mother – who were both curanderos – and their gift they call “the secrets.” “The secrets” refers to the power to talk to the dead, tell the future, treat the sick, and move the clouds.

However, it also touches upon surreal and personal experiences – including a head injury that resulted in amnesia – and even intertwines with Colombia’s political violence during the 1980s and 1990s.         

To get a better insight into her memoir, BELatina News spoke with Rojas Contreras about what interested her in writing this memoir, about her curandero family, and about the challenges of her getting so personal.

Tell us a bit about your journey as a writer. 

I have always loved stories. I initially went to school for journalism before I switched to creative writing. I began to write my first novel while waiting for my visa to be updated to another. It was the holiday season, and I was alone in an apartment I shared with friends in Chicago. I felt homesick, but the writing felt like a way to return, to visit and be in communion with the places and people and things that had made me. Writing still feels like that, a place of return. 

What called you to write this memoir? 

“The Man Who Could Move Clouds” is a memoir in the most basic and traditional of ways. Everything in the memoir is interview-based, research-based, and memory-based. I was drawn to telling a true story about what we perceive to be the edges of reality. The man who could move clouds is my grandfather, who was a curandero in Colombia. I loved interviewing people who had seen that event, and what interested me the most is that everyone I talked to prefaced what they shared with “I’m not sure what I saw, but—”. The book is populated with experiences of the surreal. 

Do you believe that magical realism is part of Colombia’s inheritance to the world? 

I believe magical realism as a literary genre was inspired by a Latine worldview, which is not unique to Colombia, but common to all of us. To many Latine people, the surreal is part of the everyday. We come from countries often devastated by violence, corruption, and everyday horrors, and I think that particular circumstance calls for a different way of being in the world. My favorite thing about reading from my memoir, which is a story about curanderos—my grandfather and my mother—, healers and healing, is how I always hear from someone in the audience who had a mother or auntie or abuela who was a curandera. Curanderos are people who to me seem to be living in a porous reality. 

Can “the secrets” be perceived as an antidote to the gruesome reality Colombia was facing in the 80s and 90s? 

I don’t think so. “The secrets” is what my family called the knowledge of curanderismo passed in secret down the family line. Curandero traditions predate any of our modern wars. I do find it beautiful, however, when you look at the history, that curanderismo is the way in which many communities resisted total erasure, assimilation, and colonization.  

What was the most difficult part of writing “The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir?”

In the memoir, I describe how both my mother and I had different accidents that resulted in amnesia. Her accident happened when she was eight years old, and mine happened when I was twenty-three. I think that section, when I am trying to put language to what it was like to be without memory, was some of the most challenging and ambitious. Other parts, where I am talking about hard things my family went through, were of course, difficult to write. 

The “Narco trend” follows Colombia like the plague, unfortunately. However, do you think your book will give people a different perspective on Colombia’s history? 

I hope so! I think it makes sense that some of our literature is trying to digest a time that was difficult for many of us. We need that space to hear ourselves, know what happened, and share a communal truth. I think we write those stories for us, and sometimes with an American audience, that’s all they come away knowing, but I hope people read widely. There are so many exciting books, like Pilar Quintana’s “La Perra” and Julián Delgado Lopera’s “Fiebre Tropical,” that tell quite different stories.

Who was your favorite person to write about in your memoir? How come?

My mother! She is such a volatile, dramatic, expressive person. She’s always in the middle of some drama, and I just love how she reacts and makes a life in the world. I always say that people either love or hate her when they meet her, and it’s true. She’s imposing, powerful, self-possessed, and loud. We say that she’s a carbonera, someone who’s always adding – I have seen how it bothers some people, but I love seeing that in a woman. 

Did you consider that writing this book was cathartic or healing or both? 

I was writing, I think, trying to pin down a truth, something about what it means to lose your memory, and then recover it and remember that your grandfather was a curandero who people said could move clouds. The book ended up growing out of those bounds, and I ended up writing about historical memory too, and the residues of memory. After the turbulent years we lived in Colombia, my sister came out of it with an eating disorder and I came out of it with an anxiety disorder. It was a big part of the story, I realized, writing about how memory lives in and haunts the body. It did feel it was cathartic and healing at times.  

What are you reading right now? 

I am reading “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews and “Seven Houses” by Samanta Schewblin. I am also reading “Caballo sea la noche” by Alejandro Morellón. 

As you can see, this is a book that deserves to be devoured. Get it ASAP and become lost in memories and events that will have you flipping through the pages for more.