Anika Fajardo: On searching for identity, exploring origins, and reconciling what family means


I once went swimming in natural hot springs in Colombia. It was the mid-1990s and Colombia was, according to the U.S. State Department, the most dangerous country on earth. At twenty-one years old, I had just arrived to see my father for the first time since I was a baby. His wife had brought me and my cousin to the town of Coconuco in the Western Cordillera of the Andes Mountains, where underground geothermal springs fuel a somewhat tepid ecotourism. I remember being poised in my unflattering one piece on the bank of the aguas tibias.

Publishing my memoir, Magical Realism for Non-Believers, feels just as precarious as standing on the edge of that pool. I began working on what would become this book nine years ago and, while the goal was always to publish, I never really thought about what that would mean. When I was writing abut my family, myself, and our foibles and follies, I never considered what it would be like for those stories to belong to readers and not just me.

A few other tourists had come to visit the Coconuco springs that day, even though low clouds made the high-altitude air chilly and damp. The rocks that created makeshift paths were icy on my bare feet. This pool was naturally occurring and rimmed with lush vegetation—plants I, having grown up in Minnesota, couldn’t identify, making the whole experience even more surreal.

That surrealism of my return trip to Colombia and getting to know my father is what drove me to write this book. It’s a story of searching for identity, exploring origins, and reconciling what family means. But I hope it also demonstrates the magic of life. While this is creative nonfiction (meaning these are true events that really happened), and I can’t do what Gabriel García Márquez does with story, the genre of magical realism—superimposed over memoir—lets me tell you about the leap into aguas tibias, the time snow erased my past, the drama of my daughter’s birth via emergency C-section. Because life—reality—is magical.

As I looked down into aqua-blue water, Spanish words swirled around me and the faint scent of sulfur hung in the air. Those moments before you leap, the moment before you know what will happen and how it will affect you, require bravery and probably a little insanity. Launching my memoir into the world feels just as brave and just as insane. But like that day in the Andes, all I can do is wiggle my toes, giggle with anticipation, and jump.


Anika Fajardo was born in Colombia and raised in Minnesota. Her writing has been published in the anthologies Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction and Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers (Minnesota, 2016). She has earned awards from the Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Loft Literary Center. The manuscript for Magical Realism for Non-Believers was a finalist for the Bakeless Literary Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She lives in Minneapolis.

“Incredibly well written and compelling, Anika Fajardo’s Magical Realism for Non-Believers is a remarkable memoir about the search for a father, a culture, a self. I felt like I was reading about my own life and the price I paid for assimilation and acculturation. I simply couldn’t put it down.”—Pablo Medina, author of The Island Kingdom and Cubop City Blues

“Bicultural experience is a dispassionate term for life lived across borders, identities, and even family trees. As Anika Fajardo makes clear in this searching and lyrical memoir, there is nothing dispassionate about flying back to one’s birthland, walking its soil again, or breaking bread with family who have become as good as strangers. Fajardo seeks to reconnect these missing and scattered pieces, and it is a privilege to journey beside her.”—Lila Quintero Weaver, author of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White

“A rare read, you know the kind: you don’t want it to end but you can’t put it down. Bewitching and beautiful, bound to move anyone who was ever a parent or a child, and just as compelling (and magical) the second time around.”—Dinah Lenney, author of The Object Parade

Launch event: 7:00 PM, Thursday, April 18, 2019. Moon Palace Books (3032 Minnehaha Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55406)

A full list of Anika’s events can be found here.

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