A modern Latin romance novel set in Barrio Logan reshapes Shakespeare

Alana Quintana Albertson has written 30 novels, all in the romance and mystery genres. Her latest movie “Ramon and Julieta” – titled “Love and Tacos” – was chosen as one of the Best NPR Books of 2022It will be shown at the San Diego Union-Tribune Book Festival on Saturday.

“Ramón and Julieta” is a Latin spin-off about Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, set in San Diego’s Barrio Logan, with two feuding families, a taco chain, and star-crossed lovers.

Quintana Albertson grew up on Shakespeare – first as a “drama nerd” in high school, then as an English major in college. When I started writing this story, I started with some information: A couple meets at a Day of the Dead celebration wearing masks.

“My thoughts immediately went to masks, disguise, and ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Quintana Albertson said. “And of course I write romance, so unfortunately nobody dies. No, she’s happy forever.”

At the heart of the story is Opportunity, a secret meeting between the heir to the taco chain, Ramon, and Julieta, a chef at a restaurant in Barrio Logan. Unbeknownst to the lovers, Ramon and his father were on the verge of buying the entire building to become the owner of Julieta’s home, eventually with plans to increase the rent, expelling all existing businesses and opening a chain of taco stores in their place.

“What’s at stake is if Julieta can’t work in her neighborhood — and her restaurant is more than just a restaurant. She gives kids free meals and it’s party-friendly. So, getting them out of the house because her prices are low, she can’t afford it,” Quintana Albertson said.

In the book, after Julieta finds out who the really attractive outsider is, she calls Ramon a “gentifer,” where the term “gentivation” uses the Spanish word “gente,” which translates to “people.” Quintana Albertson said it’s a type of improvement where development comes from people within the same or similar communities.

“The building owner, one of the reasons he chose Ramon and his dad to sell the thing, is because they’re Mexican, he kind of felt like maybe they’d preserve the culture. And then Ramon didn’t care, he was just going to go in and put his restaurant in there. So the improvement is when someone comes from his own culture to renovate the neighborhood,” said Quintana Albertson.

“And of course, this is a book and there are business decisions and so Ramon tries to justify that, and I’ve been trying to get him to understand what he’s been doing to his community and that he’s been separate from his community since college.”

To use such a complex subject matter in a frosty and steamy romance novel is Quintana Albertson’s intent as author.

“I know I write romance which is a literary genre that people sometimes don’t see much value in. So outwardly, of course, I want this book to be just a fun love story. But all my books are about deeper issues.”

In her writing on improvement, she wanted to make the story about the people and communities affected by development.

“Especially when you look at a place like Barrio Logan where society has struggled so hard to maintain, forced to live where, you know, there were two highways dividing it – and that makes it all the more tragic.”

Quintana Albertson never intended to write romance. Contrary to her love of Shakespeare, she had never given this type of romance any attention before, until early in her career when her agent suggested she rewrite a book as a romance to help it sell.

“I’ve never set up reading romance, and if anything, I’ve been smug about it,” she admitted. “So I read a book and it blew me away, and then I really got into the genre and now I’m obsessed with it. I see romance as female empowerment, especially now more than ever.”

Given Julieta’s role as a chef, and Ramon’s work with the taco series, food plays a huge role in the book – and Quintana Albertson takes as much graphic attention to the food details as she does in the book’s intimate scenes.

Plus, many of the original dishes and tacos are inspired by real businesses. “All the tacos are based on Salud, which is my favorite spot in Barrio Logan,” Quintana Albertson said.

Food can also be restored, she added — as shown in this book through the lens of a single fish taco recipe that was stolen from Julieta’s mother decades ago and eventually turned into an “American” version.

Fans of the book can also look forward to a TV adaptation of “Ramon and Julieta” in the near future, though details are still in the works. Quintana Albertson has another Latin version of Shakespeare’s play in the works; “Kiss me, Mi Amore“The Taming of the Shrew” reset, will be published next spring, and features characters from the same series.

Alana Quintana Albertson will appear at the San Diego Union-Tribune Book Festival on Saturday, on the “Romance, Remixed” panel at 10:45 a.m., and will also feature authors Rebecca Serle and Taylor Hahn, moderated by me. Find the full schedule for the board over here.

Union Tribune Book Festival

Saturday 20 August 2022 at 10 am

University of San Diego

free

We are back! Join us in person and virtually at the 6th Annual San Diego Union-Tribune Book Festival on August 20 presented by the University of San Diego. The Book Festival, hosted on the University of San Diego campus, is a free event for book lovers of all ages. Enjoy workshops, activities, photo booths, live entertainment, discussions with award-winning authors, and more! Don’t Miss…One Book Announcement, One San Diego Page for the 2022 Book Picks! Titles will be announced at the top of the Union-Tribune Book Festival program on Saturday, August 20. Thank you for your continued support of One Book, One in San Diego!

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