A modern Latinx romance novel set in Barrio Logan remixes Shakespeare

Alana Quintana Albertson has written 30 novels, all in the romance and mystery genres. His latest, “Ramón and Julieta” – subtitled “love and tacos” – was selected as one of the NPR’s best books of 2022and it will premiere Saturday at the San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books.

“Ramón and Julieta” is a Latin version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” set in San Diego’s Barrio Logan, with two feuding families, a chain of tacos, and star-crossed lovers.

Quintana Albertson was raised on Shakespeare – first as a self-proclaimed “theater nerd” in high school, then as an English major in college. When she started writing this story, she started with some information: A couple meet at a Day of the Dead celebration, wearing masks.

“My thoughts immediately turned to masks, masquerades and ‘Romeo and Juliet,'” Quintana Albertson said. “And of course I write romance, so unfortunately nobody dies. No, it’s happily ever after.”

At the center of the story is a chance, clandestine meeting between a taco chain heir, Ramón, and Julieta, a chef at a restaurant in Barrio Logan. Unbeknownst to the lovers, Ramón and his father are about to buy the whole block and become Julieta’s landlord, eventually intending to raise the rent, cut all existing businesses, and open a chain of taco shops in its place.

“What’s at stake is if Julieta can’t work in her neighborhood – and her restaurant is more than a restaurant. She gives free meals to kids and it’s a gathering thing. So for the pull out because she’s overpriced, she can’t afford it really kind of destroys the seam of the community,” Quintana Albertson said.

In the book, after finding out who the seductive stranger really is, Julieta describes Ramón as a “gentefier”, where the term “gentefification” uses the Spanish “gente”, which translates to “people”. Quintana Albertson said it is a type of gentrification where development comes from people belonging to the same or similar communities.

“The owner of the block, one of the reasons he chose Ramón and his dad to sell the thing was because they were Mexican, he kind of felt like maybe they would preserve culture. And then Ramón didn’t care, he was just gonna come in and put his restaurant in there. So gentification is when someone from their own culture comes and gentrifies the neighborhood,” Quintana said. Albertson.

“And of course it’s a book and there are business decisions and so Ramón tries to justify it, and I was trying to make him understand what he was doing to his community and that he had been detached from his community since college.”

Using such a complex theme in an otherwise light and raunchy romance novel is Quintana Albertson’s intention as the author.

“I know I write romance and that’s a genre that people sometimes don’t value a lot. So on the surface, of course, I want this book to be just this fun romance. But all my books talk about deeper issues,” she said.

In writing about gentrification, she wanted to tell the story of people and communities affected by development.

“Especially when you look at a place like Barrio Logan where the community fought so hard to preserve it, was forced to live where, you know, there were two highways separating it – that makes it even more tragic.”

Quintana Albertson didn’t want to write a romance at all. Unlike her love for Shakespeare, she had previously paid no attention to the romance genre, until early in her career when her agent suggested she rewrite a book as a romance to help sell it. .

“I never grew up reading romance novels, and on the contrary, I was a snob about it,” she admitted. “So I read a book and it blew my mind, then I really got into the genre and now I’m obsessed with it. I see romance as female empowerment, especially now more than ever.”

Given Julieta’s role as a chef and Ramón’s work with the taco chain, food plays a big role in the book – and Quintana Albertson pays as much graphic attention to food detail as he does to scenes. intimacy of the book.

Plus, many authentic dishes and tacos were inspired by real businesses. “All tacos are based on Salud, which is my favorite place in Barrio Logan,” Quintana Albertson said.

Food can be gentrified, too, she added — illustrated in this book through the lens of a single fish taco recipe stolen from Julieta’s mother decades ago and ultimately turned into a version.” Americanized”.

Fans of the book can also expect a TV adaptation of “Ramón and Julieta” in the near future, though details are yet to come. Quintana Albertson has another Latinx retelling of a Shakespeare play in the works; “Kiss Me My Love‘, a reboot of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, will be released next spring and features characters from that same series.

Alana Quintana Albertson will appear Saturday at the San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books, in the “Romance, Remixed” panel at 10:45 a.m., also featuring authors Rebecca Serle and Taylor Hahn and moderated by me. Find the complete program of the panels here.

Union-Tribune Book Festival

Saturday August 20, 2022 at 10 a.m.

University of San Diego

Free

We are back! Join us in person and virtually for the 6th Annual San Diego Union-Tribune Book Festival on August 20 presented by the University of San Diego. The Book Festival, held on the University of San Diego campus, is a free event for book lovers of all ages. Enjoy workshops, activities, photo booths, live entertainment, discussions with award-winning authors and more! Don’t miss… the One Book, One San Diego BIG announcement of the 2022 book selections! Titles will be announced at the top of the Union-Tribune Book Festival program on Saturday, August 20. Thank you for your continued support of One Book, One San Diego!

Irene B. Bowles