In my first novel, Outside the Bones, my character Fina is a very strong woman who is a kind of neighborhood witch. She develops a crush on a musician, and when things start to get weird for her in the love affair, she goes to see a Palero in Spanish Harlem.
Fina is completely different from me. She is tall and heavy, wears hair extensions, has tattoos on her breasts, and slaps people down when she’s mad, while I am short and thin and fairly polite.
Fina’s visit to the Palero was emblematic of something I learned from living in the New York Latino community. People talk about Palo Monte in whispers as a kind of “dark magic.” But when things got bad—you lost your job, your spouse, or you got sick—you went to see a Palero.
When I was having problems at work, and was pretty much at my wit’s end, having exhausted all my administrative remedies in my struggle to keep my job, I went to see a Palero, too.
He was a large, tough, but also tender guy, with strange dots and dashes tattooed on his massive pumpernickel arms, and sitting in a room filled to brimming with humongous cauldrons, all filled with skulls, hatchets, dolls, bottles, chains, and many more symbolic items.
I’ll never forget what he said to me after our hours long consultation: “Don’t worry about this one. I got this one. Leave it to me.”
It could have been just the psychic relief of being told that by someone with such confidence and faith. Or it could have been that I had already done so many real life things to make sure that I kept my job that my life had already reached a turning point anyway. Whatever it was, I felt much better, much more relaxed, and lighter in spirit.
I was ready to start writing. More than I ever had before. About and beyond magic.
Lyn Di Iorio is the author of the novel Outside the Bones (2011), which won ForeWord Review’s 2011 Silver award in the category of literary fiction, was “Best Debut Novel on the 2011 Latinidad List,” and was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Prize, and other awards. She has also written scholarly books on Latino/a literature, and has published short stories and essays in other venues. She is Professor of English at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she teaches Caribbean and U.S. Latino/a literatures, magical realism, Gothic literature, creative writing, and other topics. Currently at work on a second novel called The Sound of Falling Darkness, she is number two on the 2012 Top Ten “New” Latino Authors to Watch (and Read) list compiled by LatinoStories.com.