Christina: What is your Swagger? What makes Bryan, Bryan?
Bryan: I’m generally anti-establishment, I don’t live off of fake social media stats, I prioritize art and hustle over the make-believe metrics we’re becoming slaves to, I have one of the most diverse resumes you’ll find out of anyone in my age group, I’m a Nuyorican, and I empower those around me because success sucks unless it’s shared. All of that is authentic. Faking takes mad work. While lying and or being excessively safe and corporate would make me more money – it has for some of my peers – I refuse not to be myself. You mean I’d have to keep it clean and wear a suit everywhere while holding up this front just to be in good graces for people who would dispose of me regardless? Ha! F*** that!
Christina: What inspired you to write “Hidalgo Heights: The Victims Are Taking up Space”?
Bryan: Time, for starters. I had accepted what would’ve been a fairly life-changing job opportunity literally the day before the initial COVID shut down last March. The role was going to be a creative position with a prominent sports media company, but the spread of the virus effectively killed that. I always wanted to write realistic fiction. As a kid, I’d create characters in video games and form backstories for them, which I may or may not still do on my rare downtime. Even now, I can’t make a character in anything without additional details beyond the required basics. So, in April – amid the height of COVID-related death in New York City – I, like most others, was scared to leave the house and mostly out of work, so I had time. The idea developed originally in a video game that led me to create an outline, and one month later, I was writing a prologue. Around a year after, Hidalgo Heights dropped.
Christina: Which character in your book do you relate the most to?
Bryan: Without giving away too many spoilers, there are bits of me in two characters, in particular. If you know me, the connections grow obvious as you progress. One character is very anti-fake corporate, works his ass off, doesn’t care about social media clout as his peers do, and has an immature sense of humor. The second character partially embodies a younger version of who I was – in love with basketball, saw social media as the be-all, end-all, wore his heart on his sleeve, is rebellious to over-stepping authoritative figures, and is more justified in doing so than the opposing adults would admit.
Christina: I understood Hidalgo Heights to be basically the ghetto where everyone who lives there is stuck and can’t get out. Why did you choose to go this route with the location of the book? Does Hidalgo Heights remind you of where you grew up?
Bryan: Yeah, it’s all by design. Think of Hidalgo Heights like Bushwick – the real Bushwick – or like an area of Spanish Harlem or Corona or Jackson Heights. You get lots of Latinos, but often amongst each other in these historically non-white neighborhoods are some version of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Africans, West Indians, Indians, Polish, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Korean, etc. Hidalgo Heights is a majority Latino section, but many children of color attend the same schools throughout New York City. Schools in NYC, even the ones named after white racists – that’s many of them – are packed by mostly minority children. The same goes with our avenues, and bodegas, and so on. It’s why many of the schools in Hidalgo Heights are named after people of color, like Victoria Hernández, Ellen Ochoa, Shirley Chisolm, and Big L. I wanted it to resemble what is, and in other ways, what probably should be. There are elements of it that remind me of how I and others grew up, though we had more and our situations generally weren’t as dire. But, if I made it about me, that’s a less interesting book, isn’t it?
Christina: Why did you want to be a writer? Is it something you’ve always dreamed of doing?
Bryan: I grew up wanting to write, but now I want to create. I write, talk, host, analyze, podcast, produce, and do whatever else I can in life. While writing is something I’ve always dreamt of, what I do in the present day is a natural evolution from just that one practice. For example, in sports media, where I come from, most writers have to write and publish every day. Every. Single. Day. They’re writing about shit they don’t halfway believe in because that’s how the salaries and benefits come. And they’re usually opinion pieces. I and many others are too adventurous and creative to confine ourselves to the SEO constructs and ad-generating lifestyle that’s cannibalizing an already cowardice and uninspiring industry. If you’re one-dimensional in this climate, you’re cooked, and that’s something I’m glad to have learned early on in my career. So this is not just writing, but writing the way I want.
Christina: Tell us a little bit more about your book and the character within it?
Bryan: There are characters of many different kinds, though many of them are Latino and Black. However, this is for you if you’re of a particular background or understand certain environments – i.e., someone else of color or one of the cool white people who legitimately rock with our causes. My Indian publicist identified with the story despite there not being a character that looks like her because of the many issues that arise along the way. (We’ll be introducing new characters in part two!) You have your typically New Yorkers. You also have a former boxer from London, England, via Grenadian parents. You have a teenage lesbian Black couple who are among the most important supporting characters in the story. You have four headstrong emotional kids of color with untenable pressure they (literally) can’t afford to avoid. You have a fifth teenager battling a cultural identity crisis amid an impossible family dynamic, which leads to another crucial supporting character. You have well-intentioned assholes, kids encouraged by their families, and others who are dispirited. There are complicated occurrences, but enough where any reasonable reader could find the light. It’s a constant tug of war, but there’s somebody and something for everybody here.
Christina: Who or what motivates you?
Bryan: I will be paying 110% to my girlfriend, so let’s start with her since I think that’ll work out.
But as someone who is used to professional instability, you have to be self-motivated. You get your overwhelmed ass up every day; you make your to-do list, you’re as hungry and tired as you were during finals week in college, you hold yourself accountable for fulfilling tasks, you disappoint yourself when you come up short, and so on. It starts with me because it has to. But I’m also motivated by the people around me. I come from a bloodline of badass Puerto Ricans who’ve grinded for everything they have. I’m fortunate to have some of the hardest working people out here in my circle, and watching them inspires me more than they realize.
Christina: Is there anything else you would like to say?
Bryan: Just two things. One: I’m way more fun than however serious some of these answers seem, I promise. If you read the book, you might feel me on that … to some degree. And two: If I could help some people, not just myself, I’m doing what I should be. So hopefully, there are others whom this helps exercise whatever thought they need to tackle something creatively. The world needs more of us and less of them, and you know who they are.