Raised in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Isandra Collazo Rivera is a self-proclaimed citizen of the world. She's an enthusiast of international cuisine and foreign music, devoted to learn from other people's cultures, and sharing their life stories with the purpose of breaking down the walls of fear and prejudice.
She'd majored in Foreign Languages and Tourism with the goal of becoming a tour guide one day, but all of her plans changed when she felt a calling to serve the community within her Caribbean Island, as well as beyond its beautiful, white sand beaches. Committed to help bring change into the world, Isandra is now a Christian missionary, human rights defender, orator, and philanthropist.
With her debut novel; Across the Border: Interview with a Refugee, she hopes to raise awareness on many social issues happening today, and that way inspire others to raise a voice for those in need.
1. What inspired you to write Across the Border: Interview with a Refugee?
While living in the Netherlands, I met several individuals of different countries who spontaneously shared part of their life stories with me, particularly their testimonies of how they abandoned their countries of origin due to wars, persecution and lack of opportunities, and of the challenges they encountered abroad. However, it was when I listened to the story of an Iraqi refugee, when I knew that I had to write a book about what I saw and experienced with each one of them.
2. Did you relate to the main character, Isabel, in any way? If so, what?
I definitely relate to Isabel in many aspects, seeing that most of her experiences in the Netherlands were actually my own. But in terms of personality, we are a little different.
3. What was the hardest part about writing this book?
I would say that the hardest part was to remain neutral when describing the persecution of Christians in the Middle East from Samir’s perspective. It is not always easy to remain “politically-correct” when you write or speak about these type of subjects, or when you feel somewhat obligated to criticize a particular religion or culture.
4. What are some of the main issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?
The book explores several issues and situations that occur to diverse immigrants while living within a modern society. However, the main issues discussed in this novel are the persecution of Christians in the Middle East (particularly towards the Assyrian nation), and the dangers that refugees encounter when fleeing their war-torn countries. I explore them because they are happening in this day and age, in a rather relentless and brutal manner.
5. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
Apart from being captivated by Isabel and Samir’s escalating intercultural romance, I hope readers will become aware of the hardships and tribulations refugees face when trying to reach a safe haven. I also hope they learn the importance of uniting in solidarity with those who suffer discrimination and persecution, to learn of the different social causes, and realize that integrating with people of other cultures and beliefs can be both culturally and spiritually enriching.
6. What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
The creative process is invigorating and exciting, especially when you write down those lines which give you chills no matter how many times you read them. That would be my favorite part. On the other hand, my least favorite part is the fact that the creative process itself can be very lonely. In order to write, I’ve had to isolate myself more than I ever imagined.
7. Who are some of your favorite authors?
I enjoy Paulo Coelho’s novels for the quick way they transport me to other places. I have experienced that also with Dan Brown’s work, as well as Isabel Allende’s novels. I can’t be too specific when it comes to choosing an author, but I will grab anything that I find intriguing and compelling. At the moment I’m reading some of Brian Weiss’ work, never imagining that I would be into the “past life regression” subject. It is quite amazing. And next in line is a memoir by Camilo Mejía as his testimony as a sergeant in Iraq; another obsession of mine.
8. If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)
Isabel’s look was inspired on actress Angelica Celaya. When I first saw her playing “Zed” in the Constantine series, I knew she was the one. So if there’s a movie, I will move heaven and earth to get her to play Isabel. As for Samir, that’s tricky. No one can be Samir except for Samir himself, the real-life one, because there are two essential attributes he possesses that are difficult to match; his deep, heavily-accented voice and his gaze. However, I’ve thought about a few actors that could portray the mysterious Iraqi quite well; Manu Bennett (For his epic role in Spartacus), Tamer Hosny, and Turkish actors Engin Akyurek or Burak Ozcivit.
9. Are you working on anything right now?
Definitely. I’m working on the sequel of my novel, as well as on the Spanish edition. I am really looking forward to completing the series, but also to seeing this first book translated into many languages.
10. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
I feel that Latino literature focuses a lot on identity, social criticism and nationalism. When it comes to our community there’s always a tendency to write mainly about these particular subjects. Surely that’s a good thing, for it shows that we strive to highlight our history and our social battles. No matter what the genre may be; fiction, non-fiction, poetry or any other, controversy is somehow present in Latino books. And it should be, because as writers we want to make an impact on our readers. So I truly feel that Latino literature has been inspiring throughout the years, and lately it’s been heading towards new horizons, for example; LGBT literature. This may not be my cup of tea, but it’s “the new thing” nonetheless, and there’s a huge market for it.