The Bronx is on fire and with good reason. The enclave most synonymous with the birth of Hip Hop, has been tilling the foundation for a thriving arts community with it’s loyal lifelong residents leading the onslaught. Through entrepreneurship, advocacy and organization, initiatives such as Project X , The Lit Bar, and the Bronx Arts Alliance ensure that the rich creative roots of Bronx history continue to rewrite themselves. BRILLA speaks to Writer Angelique Imani Rodriguez, self-proclaimed bibliophile and Bronx boriqua on her mission to engage community through food, books and a smidge of ancestral wisdom.
Who is Angelique Imani Rodriguez?
I’m a Bronx born Boriqua born in the South Bronx and raised in Kingsbridge. I’m the youngest of three children and the baby girl to two older brothers so growing up was a bit lonesome. You’re considered to be la nena de la casa and behave a certain way and so I became a homebody. Being the only girl in a latinX household is extremely sheltering. You learn to utilize your imagination and creativity becomes second nature. Books became my solace and kept me in a place of comfort.
How did your childhood imagination influence your adult creativity?
I read a lot. Reading in itself opened me up to a world unbeknownst to me . There were people I’d never met and places I’d never been and things I’d never done. It was easy to live vicariously through these characters although they didn’t come from where I came from, or look how I looked, or even sound how I sounded. As I got older that became a persistent issue for me. I needed to find the writers who wrote stories for women like me and that’s when I got the idea for BoriCongo.
What is the BoriCongo Book Gang and how did the naming of it come about?
My father is a well known musician and when my padrino passed (who also happened to be my father’s best friend) there was a photo at his wake of a shekere ( a West African percussion instrument made of a dried gourd with beads woven into a net covering the gourd and used in West African and Latin American folkloric traditions and music), and written on the inside of the shekere as a tribute to their cultural influences was BoriCongo. It always stuck with me. The BoriCongo Book Gang was an idea. I didn’t want to create a traditional book club. where the organizer picks a well known best seller book, we read it and that’s it. I wanted to introduce the group to new voices. Writers that I knew personally who might not have the support of a literary agency pushing their work. I wanted BoriCongo members to have an active role in who they read by recommending new authors to them and keeping the motivation and momentum of finding writers of color.
Yet you’re also a writer. Explain how reading some of these writers may have influenced your own self -expression.
I’ve done a few workshops. I’ve surrounded myself with amazing mentors like memoirist Vanessa Martir who’s 52 Week Essay Challenge kicked me into high gear and essayist Kiese Laymon who taught me at VONA. VONA (Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation) has been instrumental in me owning my voice. I love the energy they’ve created. The brilliance of black and brown bodies in a room with the sole purpose of creating is powerful as fuck. I tend to run away from things. Imposter syndrome has played an insidious part of me thinking my art wasn’t important or up to the standards of academia, which we know to be canonized by white writers, but I’m also the kind of person who craves the kind of space where I can learn, grow and question. That’s where I’m most comfortable.
What does Angie do for fun?
I value my tribe. I suffer from anxiety and when I’m about to spiral my sister friends pull me out of the hole. Being the only girl I never had that, and its nice especially in adulthood to be a woman surrounded by other badass mujeres who love me as fiercely as I do them. My circle pushes me to dream bigger and because they’re mostly creatives, they encourage me to submit that essay or apply for that fellowship or even create BoriCongo. They hold me accountable and validate me when I need it and even when I don’t. Being the bibliophile that I am, I take great pleasure in reading. I love Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison. Luís Alberto Urrea. My GOD, so so many its hard to name them all. One of my favorite writers was the late Anthony Bourdain. I was a fan of his books before ever seeing his shows.
Which leads me to the anthology you’re working on! Tell us more!
Yaaaaas!!! The anthology is titled Breaking Bread: An Anthology of Writers of Color on Food. I love a good meal. I mean I’m Latina. We are serious about our mu’fuckin’ food! And even before Bourdain passed, I tangled with this idea of creating an anthology where writers of color would have the space to create a narrative around the theme of la cocina. One of my favorite books growing up was Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was forever fascinated with her descriptive use of words during the kitchen scenes. The sense of not having a lot but these beautiful meals that created this familial togetherness . It was as if I was sitting there at the table with them. But where are our writers of color who talk about food? Again, almost nonexistent. I value food in the same way I value music because it triggers memory. I always tell people the story of how I taught my brother how to make arroz blanco over the phone; the same way my mom taught me. Her words and step by step instructions painted the visuals I needed to complete the meal. Food and culture is a connection to places that we can no longer be. So the anthology seeks to become that for us. It’s a way to connect us through food. Our stories, our poems, our recetas passed down from abuela and mami. Submissions are open until October 2nd and writers of color are encouraged to submit. I actually extended the deadline from August because this project is so special to me.
What advice would you share for other writers?
Our ancestors were not allowed to use this skill because our stories have always been a powerful tool of communication, knowledge and language. There’s an African Proverb that says ” until the story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Well I want to read the lion’s stories.