Philadelphia journalist Sabrina Vourvoulias is joining The Philadelphia Inquirer as the organization’s first Senior Editor, Communities and Engagement. In this role, Vourvoulias will lead The Inquirer’s Community News Desk and will focus on centering the region’s diverse communities in The Inquirer’s journalism.
— Joseph Lichterman, The Lenfest Institute, Oct. 27, 2021
The story is a celebration of food and resistance, and as fellow speculative fiction writer A.C. Wise noted, a love letter to Philadelphia’s immigrant communities.
It’s hungry work
As you might have guessed from the title, there is a lot of food in this story. Primarily tamales of all sorts, but also Caribbean icys and oxtails, Indonesian nasi goreng, Puerto Rican pernil … reading this will make you hungry.
Andrea Johnson interviewed me about Las Girlfriends for Apex, and asked about why I made food the magical conveyance in this story. The interview goes live on the site on March 11, so you can read my full response there. But, really, at the heart of it is that I’m a foodie and every aspect — from growing to cooking to ingesting — is imbued with ceremony and ritual and incredible power.
Las Girlfriends is one of a number of stories of mine in which Philadelphia — magical and mundane (but never ordinary) — is as important a character as any of the human ones.
Johnson also asked me about this in the interview (go read it, when it goes live!) and the truth I just think Philadelphia is amazing. And, yes, I do think magic truly happens in the city.
Las Girlfriends themselves — a trio of more-than-middle-aged Latinas who sell magical tamales (tamágicos) from their food truck — have been secondary characters in two earlier, related Philadelphia stories:
Published at Tor.com and edited by Carl Engle-Laird, Skin in the Game follows Officer Jimena Villagrán (daughter of Las Girlfriend’s Rosa Marta) as she deals with monsters, magical con men, discarded needles and a rash of murders in the Zombie City-La Boca del Diablo encampment in Philadelphia’s Kensington/Fairhill neighborhood.
My other “Magical Philadelphia” stories (so far) include El Cantar of Rising Sun at Uncanny Magazine and St. Simon at 9th and Oblivion (historical speculative!) forthcoming in the Speculative Fiction for Dreamers anthology. While neither of these stories involve Las Girlfriends’ coterie, if you get to the end of the tour of eateries in Las Girlfriends — the “When food is home” entry — the photo header shows a a mural “in memory of Loco” — who is Alonso’s and Amor’s father in El Cantar. (Yes, I love easter eggs 😉.)
“I kept asking [the organizers of the cleanup at Second and Indiana], ‘Where, where is the place that is going to take these individuals?’”
Everyone from Dr. Oz to the BBC has now done a piece on the heroin camp in Kensington. Some of the pieces have been good, others are simply poverty and addiction porn. All of them have come from outside the community most impacted by both the existence of the camp and its cleanup. To get beyond one-shot sensationalism, what we need now is coverage that centers the voices of people like Jessie Alejandro-Cruz and Charito Morales — who have been grappling with not only the implications but the actuality of this for decades.
The World Series winner this year — improbably, against the odds and in defiance of a 108-year curse — is the Chicago Cubs.
My father, a lifelong Cubs fan, would have been stunned by the win. And elated. And stunned. All his wildest, most stubborn hopes were vindicated … this year.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately, and not only because of the Cubs. In his latter years my dad had become a political wonk, and he would have been riveted by this electoral season.
My father spent most of his adult life as part of multinational, corporate America. He rose through the ranks of Ray-O-Vac Company (at that time part of the multinational ESB), first in Mexico, then in Madison, and onto Thailand and Guatemala. He came to Philadelphia (where the international division had its offices in one of the Penn Towers) in 1975, to work as a vice president in charge of Latin American operations. Ultimately he led a management buyout of the international division and became CEO and chairman of the board of the resulting corporation.
My dad believed in corporate America, and he was loyal to it. He also believed in the Republican Party. He was a fiscal and social conservative — the quintessential first-generation American who had “bootstrapped” himself into success. And though he lived most of the first 48 years of his life “overseas,” he made sure to vote in every election. Most notably (at least for his liberal kids who never let him forget it), he voted for Nixon rather than JFK.
He loved being an American citizen in the way so many first-generation folks do — exuberantly and unabashedly.
My brothers and I were all born outside of the U.S. (Mexico, Thailand and Guatemala) but my dad made sure we were all American citizensfrom birth (by jus sanguinis which accords nationality on the basis of a parent’s citizenship rather than birth place) because, he believed, why would anyone NOT want to be a citizen of this great nation?
So you are thinking right about now that my father, were he still alive, would be a Donald Trump supporter.
Not so fast.
“My father was a refugee’s son,” wrote my brother Alberto, in a brilliant and beautiful column published in June of this year at Fox News Latino. “Born in the U.S., he was proud to serve his country. […] in a frontline regiment with blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians, children of immigrants and children of the native-born.For him, this mosaic was the strength and promise of America.”
A mosaic which Trump has sought to pull apart at every turn of this campaign. Mexican Americans, Muslim Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, immigrants and refugees — time and again Trump has contrived (in word and proposed policy) to diminish and “otherize” the manifold greatness of America.
My father would have agreed with those who say that Trump knows nothing of real sacrifice: Refugees trying any way they can to keep their children alive; folks who have lost loved ones serving in the armed forces; he doesn’t even understand the sacrifice of veterans who have withstood torture and lived years as P.O.W.s… All of them have been fodder for hateful characterization and derision from Trump.
Trump knows nothing of the kind of hope that draws from the wellspring of love rather than hate.
He certainly knows nothing of the hope and promise of America that prompted a young man to serve his nation in two wars; that gave him the drive to go to college on the G.I. bill; that got him through jobs so ill-paid some weeks he could only afford to eat bread; that taught him to scrimp and save so someday he might be able to afford a radio on which to listen to a ballgame …
My father was targeted as an American while he was working for Ray-O-Vac in Guatemala, and was kidnapped. The details are terrifying, and throughout the time he was held his kidnappers made clear to him that my mother (a fierce and amazing Mexican-Guatemalan who would have been especially infuriated by Trump’s vitriol against immigrants and his entitled attitude toward women) and my brothers and I were next.
My father told me years later that he didn’t have time to despair while he was held, he was too busy trying to figure out what he needed to do to negotiate his release so he could whisk us all to safety. My father’s hope was as stubborn and resilient as he was — no kidnapped American had been released alive during that time in Guatemala — and, remarkably, he eventually succeeded. He managed to convince his kidnappers to release him and for the ransom to be paid over a 12-month period. He also talked them into cutting the ransom by a third. (When I hear Trump describe himself as a wonderful businessman, I can’t help but think his negotiation skills have never truly been tested.)
Despite the ordeal I never heard my father speak of his kidnappers in the foul and hateful terms Trump has used to describe citizen and non-citizen, public figure and private, colleague and ally, during this electoral season.
Later in life, when board upheaval ousted my father as CEO of the company he had bought out and an equivalent position was slow to emerge, my father took on jobs at Wawa and Target to be able to pay bills and to fulfill his financial responsibilities to the country he loved and believed in.
Others were embarrassed for him, but he was not. He believed there was dignity in all work, and he witnessed that his coworkers labored as hard and as loyally at their low-income jobs as his executive colleagues did in their more exalted positions. By the time he returned to his next CEO position, he had reluctantly become a Democrat — because his beloved Republicans seemed out of touch with the economic challenges and realities of so many Americans.
My father would have been horrified that Trump has not only deliberately avoided paying income taxes that sustain everything from our nation’s armed forces to education to a fraying safety net, but that the billionaire business magnate has repeatedly welched on paying hard-working, ordinary people for the work they’ve performed for him.
I think most people are more like my father than like Trump.
I believe most of us will choose to act honorably rather than dishonorably when it comes to our obligations to our fellow citizens, and to the America we love.
And during those moments when I panic that the upcoming election may be as much of a nailbiter as the final game of the World Series was, I imagine my father as a young man in Chicago, listening to the Cubs game on his precious radio.
He never gave up on his wild, stubborn hope for the best.
In what is becoming something of a tradition, the night before a Donald Trump Philly visit, something media-memorable happens.
Last week it was Marco Gutierrez, the co-founder of Latinos for Trump, on MSNBC warning that one of the dire consequences of continued immigration would be “taco trucks on every corner.”
Then last night — in advance of Trump’s scheduled appearance at the Union League today — Trump’s social media team allowed a tweet to go out marking anti-feminist Phylllis Schlafly’s death … only it was spelled “Phillies” Schlafly.
Uh, oh. Guess the Donald’s got Philadelphia on his mind — and probably not because of the ho-hum season the fourth-place NL East team is having.
Gwen Snyder hopes to transform her experience into a movement toward justice.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines a sexual assault as any kind of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Snyder, 30, the executive director of Philadelphia Jobs with Justice and a Democratic committeewoman in the 27th Ward, said she knew she had just been sexually assaulted — what she didn’tknow was what exactly she could do about it.
“I just kept asking party leaders from Pennsylvania what the process was to address the attack and get my attacker’s credentials pulled, and no one knew how, or even if there was an official process,” Snyder said. “I was never put in touch with anyone trained to deal with sexual violence. After a reporter gave them the heads-up about me, a couple of DNC staffers did contact me to take a report, but didn’t make any commitments and didn’t seem willing to involve me in discussions about assault policies moving forward.”
The next wave of Latinx politicos in Philly is in the wings, laying the groundwork for the future.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times for wonkish Latinx folks like me.
With the Democratic National Convention just two weeks away, there’s a certain amount of exhilaration at the prospect of the Party’s P-A-R-T-Y in Philly.
But it’s also depressing. No, I’m not talking possible SEPTA nightmares (though there is that). It’s just that, as a Latina, I’m unlikely to be seeing more than a handful of mi gente among the ranks of the party’s top pols.
The sad reality is that I’d have a better chance of that at the Republican National Convention. Chew on that for a while (especially given the GOP’s not-so-friendly-to-Latinxs policies). From rising star governors Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval to former presidential contenders Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the GOP has cultivated a deeper Latinx bench — where top pols are concerned — than the Dems.
After four years as the managing editor of AL DÍA, I’ve decided to move on.
One of the best aspects of the job has been covering the amazing Latinx and PoC communities locally and nationally. The wonderful people I’ve met during my years here, coworkers, sources, colleagues, friends and community have made all of it worthwhile.
I, of course, plan to continue to write, edit, comment, and tell our Philadelphia stories — in English and Spanish — as enthusiastically and expansively as a freelancer as I have under the aegis of AL DÍA.
Let’s do coffee and talk about the stories that need writing in our city and nation!
Read Philly Mag’s article about my departure here.