Funny thing about labels, it’s a love-hate relationship. We love them when we choose them for ourselves and we hate them when they are chosen for us. Labels, tattoos, IDs, whether they are identifying physical, emotional, spiritual, inherent qualities, they will always be an awkward political, social, and personal subject. In her debut novel, INK, Sabrina Vourvoulias initiates an intricate and tricky discourse on this love-hate relationship that each of us has with labels, a discussion that is overdue. Vourvoulias starts the conversation using four distinctive and diverse perspectives and experiences, those which may be the source of the discomfort in talking about descriptions for the Other. Finn, the “average”’ white male somewhat fascinated with his labels as a fearless and charismatic journalist. Mari, an indigenous, maternal leader, innately aware of human evils and the risks she is obligated to take. Del, the “unusual” white male who is aware of his connection with nature and his environment, however hesitant to reveal his intuitive experience to Others. Lastly, Abbie, the adolescent techie, able to pick up on social nuances, going through the awkward teenage development, and yet, able to understand human rights and wrongs. Of course, these descriptions are my own perspective of the characters, that which adds another voice to the discussion.
The awkward discussion begins as Finn introduces the inks, immigrants living in a fictitious, yet plausible, urban and rural US region, labeled by tattoos of various colors, each color identifying the individual’s immigration status. Mari enters the conversation as one of the “credible” periwinkle blue inks, that is, a legitimate citizen, yet still the Other. Mari works for HPCO, a population control county office, as the trusted intermediary between the inks and the… well, güeros, the “Americans”. Hesitantly, Del enters the dialogue as a courtesy and in an attempt to remember his particular obligation to the discussion. He does not fear the inks or feels himself different from them, however concedes to society’s customs of class and social status, so much so that he might as well live “in different universes.” As revealed by his conversation with Meche on a risky mission to rescue Mari. Meche, a blue ink, explains how even though Del may not be prejudiced, his yielding to society’s fears makes him biased. She says,
“Finn made me memorize his sister’s address and phone number. In case something happened to you.”
“He didn’t give me yours.”
She gives me an odd look. “That’s because nobody’s waiting for my return If I died doing this it would all just end with me.”
“Jesus. We’re not really talking death, are we?”
“You think if the instaskin failed and we had to make a run for it that guy would have hesitated to shoot?”
“He’s a self-important dick, but he wouldn’t shoot us.”
She’s quiet for a moment. “Sometimes I wonder if people like you and I live in different universes.”
“Sorry. But you’re doing this as a favor to Finn, and I’m doing it because if I don’t I might as well be dead. Different planets at least.”
Meche further explains the difference between them as Del shares his struggle, forced to live in the city because his wife, Cassie, prefers it over his beloved rural home. They talk about what truly is home, the circumstances for leaving it, and the difference in their experiences and therefore, perspectives.
“Cassie is here and shouldn’t the people we love define home for us?” I say once I know my voice won’t give me away.
She leans in to study me. “That’s one view. The other is that home defines who we love.”
“Exile is a strange and cruel state, Del. But the sense of being in exile isn’t precipitated by the land you inhabit.”
She moves toward the door with me anyway. “You know what I really think? I think you’re feeling guilty.”
She shakes her head and an irritated expression crosses her face. Then it softens a little. “No, you feel guilty because your struggle is real, and fundamental to who you are, but also incredibly privileged. You’re the only person at my peña tonight who’s considering self-deporting – and it’s because you don’t have to.”
(emphasis my own)
Finally, Abbie interrupts the conversation with an adolescent’s judgmental outburst about adults and their manipulative actions. In her attempt to define herself uniquely and live under adults’ misleading rules, Abbie experiences life in the raw. A life that no other adolescent would necessarily experience as a result of the protective shields fearful parents have drawn. This, and the fact that her divorced mother works multiple shifts in the town’s inkatorium, gives Abbie an uncensored view of the adult world. Her astute perception gives her the insight of humane truths, however is not able to evade experiencing the evils by others, supposedly, her own kind. She reflects,
“You can learn a lot lunching at the inkatorium. Like, people inside are pretty much the same as people outside. We’ve got somewhere around 1,000 inks of all kinds here now and if you walk into the lunchroom you’ll see them sitting clustered into ethnic groupings. And within each group, they sit pretty much by color of tat. Unspoken hierarchy, a lot like high school. The only ones who seem to cross the boundaries are kids too little to recognize distinctions other than size.”
Diverse experiences and perspectives effect particular definitions, descriptions, or labels. We tend to fear that which we do not understand, and hesitate to experience the Other. Vourvoulias is the storyteller that initiates the awkward conversation among Others in the hope for a truthful experience of the Other and hence, a contented relationship. Let us continue the conversation, and storytelling is the optimal mode.
About the Book
What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history – collectively known as inks.
Set in a fictional city and small, rural town in the U.S. during a 10-year span, the novel is told in four voices: a journalist; an ink who works in a local population control office; an artist strongly tied to a specific piece of land; and a teenager whose mother runs an inkatorium (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns about inks).
The main characters grapple with ever-changing definitions of power, home and community; relationships that expand and complicate their lives; personal magicks they don’t fully understand; and perceptions of “otherness” based on ethnicity, language, class and inclusion. In this world, the protagonists’ magicks serve and fail, as do all other systems – government, gang, religious organization – until only two things alone stand: love and memory.
About the Author
Sabrina Vourvoulias is a Latina newspaper editor, blogger and writer.
An American citizen from birth, she grew up in Guatemala and first moved to the United States when she was 15. She studied writing and filmmaking at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.
In addition to numerous articles and editorial columns in several newspapers in Pennsylvania and New York state, her work has been published in Dappled Things, Graham House Review, La Bloga’s Floricanto, Poets Responding to SB 1070, Scheherezade’s Bequest at Cabinet des Fees, We’Moon, Crossed Genres #24, the anthologies Fat Girl in a Strange Land and Crossed Genres Year Two, and is slated to appear in upcoming issues of Bull Spec and GUD magazines.
By Sabrina Vourvoulias
Pub: Crossed Genres Publications
Pub Date: October 2012
$13.95 USD | Paperback
On the motivation to study a foreign language… Mostly I was motivated by my personal relationships/friendships with my Spanish teachers throughout Waldorf [Education]. They were always people who inspired and challenged me.
Ian Pollard Student at the University of Texas at Austin
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