The Beauty of Bilingual

A chat with Roberto Santos, Editor of Rio Grande Review.


Roberto Santos has been one of three editors of the Rio Grande Review since the fall of 2008.

Interview by Leora Silverman Fridman


What mission or goals distinguish the Rio Grande Review from other journals?

What differentiates us from most scholarly journals is that we work in a bilingual format. We don’t translate -- we accept pieces in the format they’re written in. I would’ve even considered publishing something in Chinese, if that had been a possibility. I think it’s a great multicultural exchange space where more established writers can meet less established – We’ve published Susan Brillante right there alongside people in MFA programs around the state and more amateur writers. In the previous edition we had a writer who was in prison in Spain during the era of Franco and I managed to get a hold of some of his work from some of his nephews and put his work in print for the first time. This is the kind of variety I’m interested in. We look for these little unique things – we try to find and grab unknown authors, waiting to get out.

Why is it important to have a bilingual review?

The United States is one of the most multicultural nations that exists, and this publication is not just a representation of El Paso, but of the diversity around united the United States and the direction it’s going. Here in El Paso, the majority of our readers - and of our population - is Latino. In this population you’ll see what the future of the United States is going to look like. The Spanish language is becoming more dominant. Our bilingual component shows this growing dynamic that the US will have even more so in the future. We’ve tackled the issue of, “if the magazine is bilingual does that meant that some people will be left out?” But I don’t think so. I think it’s real. I think it will encourage someone to try and learn, and ask someone Spanish-speaking to translate pieces for them, and encourage that kind of interaction.

What kinds of challenges are presented by being a bilingual publication?

Most of the challenges we encounter are around the fact that there are so many different types of Spanish and so many different types of English that we went to be sensitive to. We have to be prepared for different types of language and slang that people are inventing every day. For example, my Spanish is Dominican and very different from the Uruguayan Spanish of one of my co-editors, so we may think a word means totally different things. We have all these little disputes about dialect and what a word means in different places. We’re trying to keep each other up to date on that so we don’t edit something that’s supposed to be a certain way. Encountering those linguistic challenges is difficult, but also a lot of fun. The working relationship with your colleagues can also be challenging, because there’s a lot of work required with such a small group.

What magazines would you compare the Rio Grande Review to?

I don’t think there are any reviews that are doing something similar to what we’re doing. There’s a similar idea in Mandorla but they mostly feature artists and, at least at this point, are much thicker.

In what ways would you like to see the Rio Grande Review grow?

Given that we’re totally edited by graduate students, funding is a big issue, as is time availability. I’d like to see the editorship of the review become a larger part of our funding time. I’d like to see the magazine distributed with a further reach, and bring in more people onto the team. I’d like to see this mag become more professional over the years. At this point it’s a great exercise for grad students and is on the border of transitioning from an amateur publication to becoming a real full-fledged professional scholarly journal. There’s so much potential here.

What kind of work are you seeking to encourage with the Rio Grande Review?

Currently, we receive a good number of submissions of poetry and a lot of short fiction. I would like to see more short shorts. I think the prose poetry we’ve been getting is really interesting. So, short shorts and prose poetry are two genres I’d like us to work in more. The website is also very different a separate – we publish a whole different set of work there. I’d like to see that develop and get more submissions just for the online magazine. I’d like to see more visual poetry, concrete poetry, more experimental writing, even song/music, work that benefits from the online environment.

What is a secret about being an editor of this review that you wish more writers actually knew?

I look for writing that is from the heart. Writing that after you read it you feel a sensation of epiphany, and know that this person felt what they were writing. I would encourage writers to send pieces that best reflect where they’re coming from and to contain the type of change that they would like to see in the world – if their writing is about change. I like to feel the heart of the writer in the pieces sent. And my word for writers who are interested in publishing with us – we’re very interested in seeing more experimental and digitally-based work. If any one is interested in contributing to a multicultural, bilingual project, we’re always looking for private sponsors and donors!

How do you place this publication in contemporary writing and other literary publications?

I’ll give an example to explain how I place us: We received as a submission this year a text from a prisoner who was in one of the penitentiaries here in Texas. His piece was a dialogue between two prisoners about how they each ended up in prison. In this magazine I am trying to really publish the voice of the “the people,” so you’ll find that text of a prisoner right next to that of an academic, and we have these kinds of people meeting here in the same magazine. Our magazine is maybe more accessible than some others because we’re graduate students. We’re in the process of learning, and learning our own voices, and we want this magazine to allow the opportunity for writers of different voices and from different walks of life to be published, side by side.


Leora Silverman Fridman is a writer and educator living in Boston.