L.A. Libros Fest: Interview With Gabby Rivera

Patricia Valdovinos, Librarian, Multilingual Collections,
Author Gabby Rivera
Author Gabby Rivera

Gabby Rivera was born in The Bronx and is queer Puerto Rican author on a mission to create the wildest, most fun stories ever. She’s the first Latina to write for Marvel Comics, penning the solo series America about America Chavez, a portal-punching queer Latina powerhouse. Rivera’s critically acclaimed debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath was called “f*cking outstanding” by Roxane Gay. Currently, Gabby is the writer and creator of b.b. free, a new original comic series with BOOM! Studios. Her podcast Joy Revolution is out now! When not writing, Gabby speaks on her experiences as a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx, an LGBTQ youth advocate, and the importance of prioritizing joy in QTPOC communities at events across the country. She writes for all the sweet baby queers, and her mom.

Gabby is one of the featured authors at this year's Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family. L.A. Libros Fest for Teens and Adults will be streamed live on YouTube.

What does heritage mean to you? How do you identify and why?

I’m a Nuyorican. That’s like the best way to put it. Born and raised in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, also from the Bronx and both sets of grandparents from Puerto Rico.

I grew up like countless other Bronx Ricans, surrounded by Salsa music, marching in the Puerto Rican Day Parade, eating arroz con pollo and NYC style pizza. Me and my family made pasteles at Christmastime, singing “El Burrito Sabanero” like old school, big family, big love Puerto Ricans, you know?

And I learned about P.R. from the stories of my grandmothers and older tías and from visiting in the summers when I was a kid. I picked up pieces of the history & politics of P.R. and the way the United States has looted it for its natural resources and shores, among other things, from reading books like Palante: Voices and Photographs of the Young Lords and Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities of the Diaspora. There’s still so much to learn about the island of Borinken.

All those pieces together are what I consider my heritage. They’re what has been passed on to me, not just my biological family, but by other Ricans of the diaspora who have done their best to fight the power and uphold their joy.

I try to push what I know of my culture and heritage, and specific family customs, to include all the gay, all the queer, all the genderful magic.

How does your heritage inspire your creativity?

All I ever want to do is honor the joy of my grandmothers. They worked so damn hard to make a life for all of us. That’s why I do my best to fill my stories with goofy, big-hearted, curious, compassionate, and thick-bodied people of color, with specific love and energy to Nuyoricans. Also, I always wanted more celebration of queerness in my family. Not just tolerance and secrecy. So I try to push what I know of my culture and heritage, and specific family customs, to include all the gay, all the queer, all the genderful magic.

My paternal grandma, Amalia, always used to say Donde caben diez, caben once so where we fit ten, we can fit eleven because everyone is welcomed at our table. My work is for all the queer brown kids who just wanna love and be loved.

How do you preserve your heritage as a writer/creator/artist/chef?

I just keep learning. Reading. I’m taking a Puerto Rican history course online now. Both sets of my grandparents have passed, so now it’s really on me to dig deep, travel to P.R., and connect with folks. Preserving heritage also means unpacking the violent realities of how the United States has gutted P.R. for its own gain and continues to do so.

So we share, we read, we write and we riot. We do all these things in the name of our ancestors. And each other.

I write my daydreams, my grandmothers’ daydreams, and you should too.

Books by Gabby Rivera

Book cover for Juliet Takes a Breath
Juliet Takes a Breath
Rivera, Gabby

Book cover for b.b. free
b.b. free
Gabby Rivera