Funeral for Flaca is the debut book from author Emilly Prado, an award-winning journalist and DJ from the Portland area. In this collection of essays, each titled with the name of a song, Emilly “retraces her experience coming of age as a prep-turned-chola-turned-punk” creating an offering that is “one-part memoir-in-essays, and one-part playlist, zigzagging across genres, tastes, and decades.”
We’re thrilled to share a preview from the book with you, a chapter called “La Llorona.” In this interview, Emilly sets the stage, offering a sense of both the book and her practice as a writer. —Ed.
Ofrenda Magazine (OM): Thank you for sharing an excerpt from Funeral for Flaca with our readers. There are so many rich layers in your book—experimentation, heritage, social justice, and healing, among others. Can you share more about what this particular selection, “La Llorona,” means to you?
Emilly Prado (EP): “La Llorona” is an essay that appears near the end of this collection, and it started with a memory of a tree in my grandparent’s house in Mexico. I didn’t know exactly where I’d go from there, other than I knew I wanted to spend some time thinking and writing about this tree. My writing often feels like a tree—messy and sprawling with many possible branches to explore, and as I thought more about the tree, it sparked memories of Mexico, my roots, growing up, and the lifecycle of things—myself, traditions, and relationships.
It documents the changes of this tree, this house, and my body. It marks the “end” of my disordered eating, and perhaps more accurately, a forced severing of my ties to the nickname Flaca. I say end in quotes because I think the stage of my life I’m in now feels something more like a remission, as the stressors and societal messages that fueled my body image struggles still exist, and, like I write, require ongoing monitoring, even on a subconscious level, to not let myself get caught up in the toxicity.
Finally, the title for the essay came after it was written because each essay in Funeral for Flaca is the name of a song, and together, they make a playlist. I picked it because in addition to being known as Flaca, I also grew up being called a cry baby. I thought “La Llorona” was a fitting ode to this other nickname, to the powerful queer icon Chavela Vargas, and the terrifying Mexican folktale of the ghost woman who sobs for eternity, roaming the land, especially near rivers, as she cries out in mourning for her three children—each of which she drowned.
OM: What is your writing practice like?
EP: I like to spend mornings, whenever I can carve out the time, writing stream-of-conscious thoughts in a journal. I was never a morning person, but my partner converted me into one when I set my own routine to his former teaching schedule. I’m a convert, and I love rising early and easing into my day with quiet and a cup of tea.
When it comes to writing creatively, with the intent to write an essay or maybe a scene towards another memoir project I’ve been slowly building towards since 2012, I start with making sure I’m comfortable. I live with chronic pain stemming from a few overuse injuries, so I’m typically limited to writing in an ergonomic desk set up. I put on headphones and listen to weird atmospheric instrumental music, and eventually the world around me dissolves. If I’m feeling anxious or don’t have a huge urge to write, I’ll set a timer. I make a promise to keep writing until the timer runs out, and often, I’ll find I’m enjoying it so much I want to continue. Then I keep doing this until things become more coherent and take plenty of breaks. I like to revise as I go, but also do several full sweeps after I’ve come to what I think might be a conclusion. I don’t write every day, but I’m okay with that.
OM: Many of the essays you write about document traumas that occur to you, your family, or to a wider community, and yet there is still humor and gentleness woven throughout. In what ways has writing this book impacted your relationship to these particular memories?
EP: Writing these essays felt healing, albeit very difficult and triggering at times. I had to reckon and sort through what I thought about different experiences I had, then zoom out enough to think about how to structure the essays and the collection as a whole. My work often reflects on the micro and macro—zooming in and out to examine how individual instances connect to wider systems, so I needed time to process to be able to analyze and step back with a critical lens. Part of that processing and move past, or at least through, the stages of heightened emotionality that memoir stirs in me occurred away from the writing desk alone or with friends or in therapy, and part of it also occurred through the writing process itself.
What’s interesting is that Funeral for Flaca started out as a class project for the Prose and Bookmaking Certificate Program I participated in at the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland in 2019, and in the two years since, I’ve already found I feel differently from how I wrote about the experiences then. I added new essays written in 2020 and 2021 to this expanded and heavily revised edition. It’s now about twice as long as it was originally, and some major changes have happened to essays that appeared in the first version of this collection. It was exciting to see this growth from a personal healing and craft perspective.
I also found that in the time that had passed, I had actually forgotten about the lightness within the essays. Maybe because of my brain’s tendency to remember the painful subjects I covered more? I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing along the book when I reread it in preparation for adding new essays. That might sound odd or a little pompous—laughing at my own writing—but I laugh at my own jokes in-person all the time, so this was comforting to me and made me feel less nervous about putting out the collection again because it suddenly was a more balanced, accurate reflection of my experience than I had remembered. Yes, terrible, painful things have occurred in my life, but I am also so grateful for all the times when that isn’t at the forefront of how I’m feeling and for all the sweet, funny moments in this life that I get.
OM: The theme for this issue is Luz/Illumination. Looking back on what you’ve written, what is a topic or theme that you feel particularly proud to have shined a light on?
EP: I think one of my favorite things about this collection is the sense of untidiness and getting the chance to write into the gray. I think we, living under the white supremacist United States perspective, have been taught that many things in life are binary—good or bad, right or wrong, genders are limited to two, et cetera. I wanted to explore the gray, and how it has felt and still feels for me to reckon with contradictions.
What does it mean to be an intersectional feminist that hates the patriarchy, but still wants a relationship with her dad—a human whose values and actions often feel opposite to what I believe in? How do I, as a survivor, feel about accountability in a transformative justice lens, sans police, when it comes to the white man who sexually assaulted me? What does it mean to heal my relationship with my body when the rejection of ethos and emphasis still feels centered on size?
I still don’t have precise answers to the questions I pose, but I continue to reckon with what my beliefs and values are, and how they impact one another. I’m proud that Funeral for Flaca feels like a documentation of the messiness of my humanity. Like Carmen Maria Machado writes in In The Dream House, it’s in this complexity of humanity—the right to be portrayed as messy or as villains—that marginalized people can be seen as whole.
“What is the name for a grief that creeps in after losing something, mixed with the back-dated guilt and shame of not really noticing? What is the nickname for a person who no longer embodies their name? What happens to a person who has become unrecognizable to some? What do we call a tree that’s been severed from its roots? A person who has been robbed of their identity?”
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Thank you. Gracias. Tlazocamati.