Manuel Aragon is no stranger to discussing the gentrification, and subsequent displacement of Latinos on the Northside.
Most Northsiders aren’t because if they don’t continue to tell their stories, there’s a chance no one will.
In Aragon’s case, he’s ready to share some Northside narratives through a science-fiction lens with his collection of short-stories titled Norteñas.
“Writing is this act of preservation,” Aragon said. “I can visibly see the Northside being gentrified and the people and the memories that I knew being wiped away. So, what could I do to cement our place in time and in history? That’s where it started.”
Aragon said Norteñas, which roughly means Northerners, is a project he’s thought about since high school. He recalled reading the typical high school classics and thought there was something missing even in the most diverse literature – Latino main characters who are specifically from the west.
The thought was put to the side as Aragon pursued screenwriting and directing.
But around 2014, Aragon said he started to take fiction writing more seriously.
“I wanted to write stories and I specifically wanted to write stories about people,” Aragon said.
He thought about writing a dystopian novel then played around with a short story collection. Short stories, for Aragon, are reminiscent of short films. They can be experimental, set in different times, different places and don’t have to adhere to one overarching theme.
And Norteñas will be experimental. Think vampire convicts, time travelers, ghosts, demons, a family dealing with Alzheimer’s and the erasure of their neighborhood.
Aragon said throwing supernatural elements into a story surrounded by serious and sometimes scarring scenarios puts the story in a different light and gives it more meaning.
“With sci-fi and horror, they deal a lot with issues of race, class, marginalization and dystopian societies,” Aragon said. “Stories that we tell within our own cultures tend to include elements of the supernatural, and things that are unexplainable are just told as is. We love to be scared.
“So, the collection is trying to tell a Northside-based story of a number of characters but it’s also trying to reckon with…systemic issues that we faced that really shaped Denver and shaped Latinx Denver.”
The collection is close to being completed and Aragon is hoping his next endeavor pushes him over the finish line.
Aragon was recently awarded a writing residency with Tin House, a book publisher based in Portland, Oregon, and New York.
It’s a month-long residency where Aragon can focus on revising, editing and getting those second, third and fourth pair of eyes on the stories. The ultimate goal, Aragon said, is to get the manuscript ready to be shopped around to various publishers, including Tin House’s own in-house editors.
So, stay tuned.
“I think the characters in these collections are going to be the Chicanos who I know really well,” Aragon said. “I want people to read the collection and feel that these characters are their tíos and tías and cousins and neighbors. It’s important that it feels authentic in that way, where a Northsider can pick it up and it feels like home.”