The Contemporary Explorer

Luz del Valle: A Narrative of Exploration

Growing up an immigrant I have seen milestones and climbed mountains which are all too figurative and irrelevant to the native. For this reason, I could almost arrive at a sense of comradeship with Cabeza de Vaca–almost. But for what it’s worth, my family and I too are explorers of this vast land, and we too have been lost and acculturated within its madness. It is for this reason that I would like to do my 20% project on the melding of my mother’s immigration/exploration and Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative. I will render a contemporary method to de Vaca’s story and perhaps make it truly resonate to a modern audience.

Why choose my mother’s story and not mine? Well, for one thing I did not plan nor have any control over the endeavor. I was not the brave one; rather my mother was. Coming from such a distinctly different culture she was the true explorer. However, unlike Cabeza, she’s triumphed in so far as her exploration has taken her. Because of my young age I believe my mom will have a better grasp of the events that occurred.

Also, to twist your arm even more, I will be doing this through the medium of a graphic memoir; this will be the contemporary spin to draw the five hundred year parallel. This will be my first shot at a graphic novel and I hope to do it justice.

To see the final product click here or on the link at the start of this post.



I began by outlining major motifs, specific emotional references, and possible relatable anecdotes.  I focused on ideas of God, honor, hierarchy, loss, death, starvation, fauna & flora, aggressive forces, and the depiction of natives as brutes. Concepts such as diligence, nakedness, danger, uncertainty, loss, narrative style, and rhetoric were also important.

Much of the narrative is really rather depressing, especially when trying to make links to own life/ mothers life. I highlighted and outlined specific instances when narrative may be translatable.








I story-boarded a lot of moms story, made different connections between her story and de Vaca’s narrative, and set up possible parallels between anecdotes. I asked many specific questions concerning certain motifs such as the question of God, culture shock, fauna and flora, racism and discrimination, the search for stability.


I went about doing this project by first setting the idea. Having seen the way that Cabeza has been so revisited I assumed that there must be something to the guy. So I began to draw connections with my own life and my mother’s life. Having done so I re-read the narrative with a specific purpose, and a highlighter, looking for possible parallels or re-occurring motifs which I could use. Many of the motifs I generally found were a bit puzzling when considering how I would go about translating them.

My next step was an interview with mom; one saturday afternoon we met up and I recorded our conversation as we sat for four hours in Java City remembering past experiences and emotions. We drew some connections and I got a sense of where the story was headed. For concepts such as the constant starvation we discussed emotional starvation or the starvation suffered from lacking own culture, starvation through the removal of a reliable network of love and relationships. We drew the concept of grandpa as king, and one of the native guides as one of mom’s employers who had actually told us to come to Charleston. Concepts consistently repeated by de Vaca such as diligence and God were more easily translatable in her narrative.

Also during this meeting mom brought over all of our photo albums and boxes of photos. I then began the process of finding and choosing possible images to work into the cartoon, having chosen to use the software available to the class earlier in the semester. I used my friends scanner to put get all the images in to my computer.

The storyboard was basically set up as far as the narrative went, I had figured it out after my meeting with mom. I tried to put together a story through the imagery and constructed the comic imagery all at once with notes on pages. Then I returned to the already laid out photographic story and completed the narrative in verse. I opened a tumblr account and set it up with the finished product.

I came across most of my problems when it came to the actual comic script. I found it difficult to condense complicated ideas into short blurbs combined with imagery that already conveyed a certain story. The program itself was very user friendly, but I found the whole concept of relaying one story through the coaxers in another using a highly stylized and visual method to be a bit of a handful. At times I found myself looking to de Vaca’s narrative, to Fun Home, to my notes from my mom’s narration, to the screen and my computer keys.

Also I came across the problem of authority and authenticity. This wasn’t my story which I was looking to tell, it is my mom’s. At times I felt uncomfortable with my narrative style and wasn’t sure how to proceed, it felt strange to take some liberties. My level of authority made me uncomfortable, as if by skipping events or emphasizing or de-emphasizing events I could somehow change the past. Or at least people’s perception of the past. I tried to stay as authentic to the story as my mom told it, but four hours of narration is far more than a 20 page graphic memoir can cover. It was burdensome at times to consider what ideas through de Vaca made the cut.

Also, while working on the comic it was a very interesting look into my own life. Often I think my narration of my mother’s life is overshadowed by my own perception of her life as well as my life. But what was most amazing was that it became a recap of our travels leading up to this day, at which point I am about to graduate from college and have opportunity knocking at my door. I have always been intensely gracious to my mom for everything she has done for us, and it is always nice to consider it and even pay homage to it.


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