Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Stephanie Elizondo Griest is the author of the memoirs Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana (Villard/Random House, 2004), Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines (Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, 2008), and the guidebook 100 Places Every Woman Should Go (Travelers' Tales, 2007).

From a Q & A at her website:

You call yourself a "globe-trotting nomad" who has explored 30 countries and 47 of the United States. Tell us about your travels and how they have shaped you.

My great-great Uncle Jake was a hobo who saw America from the peepholes of boxcars, so wanderlust is encoded in my DNA! My travels began in 1996 in Moscow, where I mingled with the Russian Mafiya. (My boyfriend's best friend was a freelance hit man.) Next stop was Beijing, where I spent a year polishing propaganda at the English mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. Then I jetted off to Havana, where I belly danced with rumba queens. These adventures are the subject of my first memoir: Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.

While traveling in the Communist Bloc, I was struck by how fervently Stalin, Mao, and Castro tried to vanquish centuries of religion, tradition, and ritual by forcing their citizens to conform to socialist culture. Yet hundreds of thousands of people defied them. During the Soviet regime, East Europeans risked being banished to the Gulag by illegally distributing newspapers printed in their native language. Even today in China, Muslim Uighurs and Buddhist Tibetans gamble with imprisonment by worshipping in the officially atheist nation.

All of this made me reflect on how, in the United States, those of us who haven't needed to fight for our culture have often deserted it. I, for instance, had invested little time or energy in learning about my Mexican heritage. I couldn't even speak Spanish! So after traveling all over the world, I realized the need to turn inward.
Read the complete Q & A.

Visit Stephanie Elizondo Griest's website.

The Page 99 Test: Around the Bloc.

Writers Read: Stephanie Elizondo Griest.

--Marshal Zeringue