Myriam Gurba on writing to the deceased, amplifying marginalized voices, and more

In Open Book - Everand Originals by The Editors


Our latest Scribd Original, Letter to a Bigot, is written by Myriam Gurba, author of the best-selling Mean. Growing up in a mostly white California town as a queer Mexican American woman, Gurba learned early in life about the long-term devastating harm of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. In Letter to a Bigot, Gurba directly addresses the mayor of her hometown, calling him out for allowing bigotry to flourish. This unnervingly candid piece is a rallying cry to shatter the status quo, from a woman who has a hard-won understanding of the costs of complacency.

Gurba’s true-crime memoir, Mean, was ranked as one of the best LGBTQ books of all time by O, The Oprah Magazine, and Publishers Weekly describes her as having a voice like no other. Mean seems like it should be dark — it’s about her experience of a violent, traumatic rape — but she infuses it with humor in an awe-inspiring way.

Below, our Q&A with Gurba takes you behind the scenes of her writing process for Letter to a Bigot, and provides insights into how to support and amplify marginalized voices.

SCRIBD: Fans of your book, Mean, are familiar with your experience of growing up in Santa Maria, the setting and all that you overcame there. What inspired you to write this piece at this particular moment in time? 
MYRIAM GURBA: I have long wanted to write about Mayor George Hobbs. He exemplifies a type of GOP bigot popular in California politics. Bigoted California politicians and political operatives played, and continue to play, a powerful role in shaping the various crises currently unfolding in the United States. Sources say, for example, that Stephen Miller is largely responsible for the Trump administration’s atrocious handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want voters and non-voters in the United States to consider the connection between what happens at the state and local level to federal politics during this election cycle.

Do you consider it an extension of that work?
I don’t consider the letter an extension of Mean but I do consider it commentary.

We asked you to write a piece for our “Letter” series. Why did you choose to write to George Hobbs? What did a letter allow you to express?
I chose Hobbs because I wanted the opportunity to paint a political picture, one that traced the ways in which a politician directly and indirectly impacts the material well-being of people they have been elected to represent but whom they instead oppress. While Hobbs is the letter’s addressee, speaking to him enabled me to take a more sociological approach to storytelling than I have in the past. Correspondence is also confessional; it can serve to unburden, and writing a letter, was, in this case, cathartic. I seldom find writing cathartic. Writing this letter was one of the few instances during which it was.

Your letter touches on the intersection of your community's history, your personal history, and a national’s history — that’s a lot of different histories. How did you decide what to include and hone in on vs. what to leave out in such a concise piece?
The act of writing largely involves choosing what not to tell. Choosing what not to tell makes writing an art form. I chose to include and hone in on histories that many people willfully ignore or distort. Ahistoricity is a hallmark of “American thought” and I’m committed to struggling against that. Any political story remains distorted without multiple historical contextualizations. Many of my choices were also archivally driven. I researched local news coverage of events detailed in the letter and used what was publicly available. Those archives allowed for figures, like Hobbs and local Chicano activists, to be heard speaking in their own voices.

In your letter you talk about parallels between George Hobbs and Donald Trump. Conversely what differences do you see?
Trump is a grifter and a television celebrity. Hobbs was a mailman. Hobbs’ ambitions seemed of a different scale than Trump’s. Hobbs didn’t have a “playboy” reputation. He also played up a local-yokel persona.

The recipient of your letter is no longer living. Who do you hope hears your message to George Hobbs? What do you want them to take away from it? 
I hope Hobbs’ spirit hears my message. I hope that it makes the afterlife an uncomfortable place for him.

You said writing this piece was cathartic. As a Queer Xicana yourself, can you talk about how important is it for marginalized communities to have their stories told?
Oppressed people have been telling their stories forever. The problem is not with us but with the audience. Oppressors, of course, choose not to listen. They choose to willfully ignore the stories of the oppressed. When oppressors do choose to hear from the oppressed, they tend to prefer stories that are told in flattering terms. This dynamic is why Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt remains popular. She stripped migrants of their stories and regurgitated them in a way that absolved oppressors. Devouring a novel like American Dirt allows complicit readers to maintain an innocent self-image.

In your letter, you share how you actively fight back against racism. How do you recommend that other marginalized groups or allies effectively fight racism? What resources do you recommend for those people?
I suggest two things.

1) Make a list of resources that you have which you are willing to share. What skills or talents do you have to lend to various social movements? What material resources do you have that you can extend to others? Take a personal inventory to discover what you have to give. We all have something to give. Maybe you type quickly. Maybe you have access to a copy machine. Maybe you have a ton of social media followers. Maybe you can budget a small monetary gift that you give to an organization on a monthly basis.

2) You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Learn about groups and individuals who are doing anti-racist and other anti-oppression work in your local community. Reach out to these organizers. Determine how to be in solidarity with them. Bring your resources to them. If an organization doesn’t exist, DIY it, but first, study the way others have done it so that you can learn from organizer’s mistakes and not replicate them.

What authors or works do you recommend people interested in your writing also read?
Wendy C. Ortiz, Lidia Yuknavitch, Cathy Park Hong, Samantha Irby, Mona Eltahawy, Mandy Harris Williams, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Jean Guerrero, Sarah Schulman, Claudia Rankine, Felicia Luna Lemus, Michele Serros, Brontez Purnell, Michelle Tea, tatiana de la tierra, Caribbean Fragoza, Alan Pelaez Lopez, Randa Jarrar, Valerie Solanas, Natalie Lima

What’s the one question you wish the media would ask you? What’s the answer?
I wish people asked me about my eyebrows. I was voted “Best Eyebrows” class of 95.

Letter to a Bigot by Myriam Gurba

Letter to a Bigot defies and directly questions the deeply rooted racism of Gurba’s smalltown upbringing in a scathing open letter to one of its biggest proponents, the late former mayor of Santa Maria, George S. Hobbs. Gurba simultaneously challenges long-held prejudice and elevates the marginalized voices we need to hear now.
Read ‘Letter to a Bigot’ by Myriam Gurba

Letter to a Bigot is a Scribd Original and is available exclusively on Scribd. It’s available in our subscription service as an ebook and an audiobook. You can find more Scribd Originals here.

You can also read Gurba’s memoir Mean as an ebook on Scribd.