Growing up straddling two different cultures can be challenging, just ask cartoonist Kat Fajardo.
As a teen, the New York-born Latina often felt torn between wanting to fit in with her white, American friends and following the traditions and values set by her Honduran-Colombian family at home. The toll that pressure took on her identity as a young girl is the subject of her candid mini comic, “Gringa."
Titled after the Spanish term used to describe a non-Latino white person or foreigner, “Gringa” explores how anti-Latino rhetoric, racist and sexist stereotypes, and conflicting cultural expectations impacted Fajardo's personal views of herself and her culture.
We caught up with Fajardo to discuss “Gringa” and what inspired her to illustrate these defining experiences.
What was the inspiration behind "Gringa"?
Despite creating and selling comics for years, I still felt like there was a disconnection between my work and my voice, as if an important element was missing from the picture. It wasn’t until I started reading autobio comics by talented friends like Laura Knetzger and Miranda Harmon that I thought, "maybe I’ll find my voice by opening up to people." Unfortunately I’m very emotionally reserved, so writing comics about personal issues was challenging and a scary concept. At the time I was also really frustrated with the lack of Latinx stories in the comics industry. It was hard enough that I felt like my work was missing something, but even worse when I felt I couldn’t connect with most of the comics I’ve read. So I figured, why not combine the two issues? And I’m really glad I did.
What came to you first: the illustrations or the story?
Definitely the story. I have a habit of treating my sketchbooks as diaries; half of it is filled with silly drawings and the rest are personal essays that I wouldn’t dare show anyone. In reality "Gringa" is a collection of personal thoughts I’ve had over the years on racism and my identity as a Latin American.
You’re very forthcoming about your conflicting feelings regarding your ethnicity in "Gringa." How old were you when you started to feel conflicted?
As a teen of course being “different” can work against you, so a sense of belonging to a group was more important to me at the time than finding my own self-identity. I think having a majority of white friends definitely affected that kind of mentality. Living in two worlds with different languages and mannerisms, you learn the ability to switch gears in personalities whether you want to or not.
In the comic you say: “If anything, I take responsibility for neglecting my own culture. In the end, no one has the power to force me to be somebody else.” How did you get to this point?
Whenever I was with my American friends, I felt pressured into acting more like them, hiding any signs of being Latina. I think once I became an adult, I grew really tired of that mindset and began to see the correlation between my unhappiness at the time and not being true to myself.
You also say: “It’s time to take my culture back and embrace it fully.” Have you? If so, how?
Definitely yes. Having a way to express my deepest feelings of my self-identity was quite cathartic and, in a way, that statement became a promise to myself.
In addition to becoming more involved in learning more about my heritage through family and research, I’ve also started a few projects that aimed for more Latinx representation in comics. Currently one of my passion projects is La Raza Anthology -- a collection of comics, illustrations and writings celebrating and analyzing the vibrant cultures of Latinxs with over 30 contributors worldwide. And with this anthology I hope to continue "Gringa’s" message of addressing important issues, by giving opportunities for other Latinx voices.
Check out the rest of Kat Fajardo's work on Tumblr.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.