Diversity Needed Under the Sea: Not All Mermaids Have Blond Hair and Blue Eyes

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This month, we’re taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. On Monday, Zoraida Córdova explained how instead of writing about her immigration experience, which seemed expected of her, she decided to write about what interested her most: merfolk.

While there have been hundreds of children’s books published about mermaids, very very very few have featured mermaids or mermen who did not have blond or red hair and blue or green eyes. We asked via Twitter if anyone knew of a Latin@ YA author, other than Zoraida, who wrote about merpeople, or books, other than Zoraida’s The Vicious Deep series, that featured diverse characters. We didn’t get any responses. So, the world under the sea seems to be another area of kid lit that could use some diversifying.

If you have a mermaid story in you, waiting to be told, please consider this: every culture has its own mythology packed with gods and goddesses similar to those in Greek and Roman tales. I’m not saying you should ignore Poseidon or not create white merfolk with blond hair and blue eyes. But, think about it this way: Wouldn’t the sea god mingle with mermaids of color if he is responsible for all of the seas in the world? Knowing that merfolk exist in Mexican, Brazilian, Caribbean, and African mythology, to name a few, gives you the opportunity to diversify your mermaid community. And I know we’re talking about fantasy fiction here, so really you can do whatever you want, including making your mermaids purple, green, or any other color. But, if your writing is rooted in known mythological stories, then keep in mind that mythological stories exist beyond Greece and Rome, so your merfolk don’t all have to look the same.

Check these out:

A cool Tumblr dedicated to mermaids of color.

The City Gallery at Waterfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina, had an exhibit called Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art had an exhibit on Mami Wata (Mother Water), the water spirit of Africa.


L to R: The first two images are of Iemanjá, Brazil’s goddess of the sea, who is sometimes portrayed as a mermaid. The image on the right is a bronze statue of Iara, a water queen. The statue is outisde the Alvorada Palace, the official presidential residence in Brasília.


On the left is a Loteria card, part of a Mexican game of chance, featuring La Sirena (the siren). On the right is a work of art by Jose Garcia Antonio of San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca, Mexico seen at the Museo de Culturas Populares in Coyoacan, Mexico City.

confetti-cannon-oAnd now, we’d like to celebrate our own Zoraida Córdova, mermaid expert and writer extraordinaire. Why? Because she’s a Latina writer with a diverse cast of characters in the deep blue sea. And her final novel of The Vicious Deep trilogy, published by Sourcebooks Fire, released on July 1!

Here’s a run down of her series:

12246929For Tristan Hart, everything changes with one crashing wave. He was gone for three days. Sucked out to sea in a tidal wave and spit back ashore at Coney Island with no memory of what happened. Now his dreams are haunted by a terrifying silver mermaid with razor-sharp teeth. His best friend Layla is convinced something is wrong. But how can he explain he can sense emotion like never before? How can he explain he’s heir to a kingdom he never knew existed? That he’s suddenly a pawn in a battle as ancient as the gods. Something happened to him in those three days. He was claimed by the sea…and now it wants him back.

13092528A storm is coming…The ocean is a vicious place. Deeper and darker than Tristan could have imagined. Beneath its calm blue surface, an ancient battle is churning —and no one is safe. In the quest for the Sea Throne, Tristan has already watched one good friend die. Now he must lead the rest on a dangerous voyage in search of the trident that will make him king. But while Tristan chases his destiny, the dark forces racing against him are getting stronger, and the sea witch of his nightmares is getting closer. Battling sea dragons and savage creatures of the deep, Tristan needs his friends’ support. But they each have their secrets, and a betrayal will force Tristan to choose between his crown and his best friend Layla — the only girl he’s ever loved.


This epic clash of sand and sea will pit brother against brother–and there can only be one winner. In two days, the race for the Sea Court throne will be over-but all the rules have changed. The sea witch, Nieve, has kidnapped Layla and is raising an army of mutant sea creatures to overthrow the crown. Kurt, the one person Tristan could depend on in the battle for the Sea King’s throne, has betrayed him. Now Kurt wants the throne for himself. Tristan has the Scepter of the Earth, but it’s not enough. He’ll have to travel to the mysterious, lost Isle of Tears and unleash the magic that first created the king’s powerful scepter. It’s a brutal race to the finish, and there can only be one winner.

The Little Ecuadorian Mermaid


Graffiti mermaid at the Lola Starr store in Coney Island

By Zoraida Córdova

Welcome as we kick off our LATIN@S IN SCI-FI & FANTASY MONTH!

After the release of my first book someone told me that mermaids were cool and all, but I should write about my own “experience.” I remember the words more than the guy who said them to me. Now, I believe that fantasy stories are a great metaphor for coming of age. I have a 16 year old dude who turns into a merman and the first thing he worries about is how his body changes (typical boys). In Blood and Chocolate, the very sexy werewolf is a metaphor for the changes girls go through when they menstruate. Hell, watch the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for stories that are magic, but still mirror “normal” teenage coming of age.

mermaid laptop

My laptop

But when this guy told me all these years ago to write about my “experience,” he wasn’t talking about coming of age, he was talking about my immigrant experience. Some time ago, I put out a question to Twitter for links to Latin@s writing YA fantasy, and I got back “Have you read Isabelle Allende’s YA series?” (She is a BAMF in her own right, but still). While I love contemporary stories, and I think it’s important to read all kinds of narratives that show how different each Latino experience is in the U.S., the stories I want to write are about magic.


from @Pocoquattro

I grew up listening to my grandmother sing to me. I grew up reading fables and getting scared of el Cuco and la Llorona. When I started writing The Vicious Deep trilogyI knew I was writing a book that had been brewing in my head for years. For a long time when people remarked “You speak English so well,” I would respond with “All I did as a kid was watch The Little Mermaid,” so that’s how I learned to speak English. It’s true, I watched it every day, rewinding the VHS as soon as Ariel got her happy ending. Whether or not it was my vehicle for the English language is debatable, but it’s become part of the story I tell.

I’ve always been drawn to magic and magical things. I want to believe in magic, and the way that I can show that is through creating magical worlds. When I was in high school my favorite books were about vampires and witches and dragons. It was book browsing at a B&N with a friend that pushed me to really write about mermaids. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I can’t find a mermaid story that I really love.

Him: So write one.

Me: Yeah…

THAT’S IT. I listened. I took a notebook with me to the beach (Coney Island, obvs) and this story LITERALLY poured out of my head. (Two points from Ravenclaw for improper use of “literally.”)

Mermaid on the ground in South Beach.

Mermaid on the ground in South Beach.

If you don’t see the story you want to read on the shelves, write it. Mermaids have always been magical to me, but it wasn’t until someone else pointed it out that I realized I could add my own mythology to my favorite magical creatures. Lately, we’ve been talking about diversity a lot, and I think the same thing applies to that. You don’t see yourself represented? Write your own story. If you want to write about magical ponies that travel through time, do it. If you want to write about the story of a girl who is looking for summer romance, do that, too.

I wonder if the reason there aren’t more Latin@s writing as much SF/F is because people (like that dude mentioned earlier) assume that the only story we have to tell is one of immigration or assimilation. And that’s just not so. If you check out this list from Cosmopolitan of 5 Latina YA authors to look out for, all of these stories fall in SF/F category. And if you go to Diversity in YA, they have an awesome list of just some Latin@s (authors and/or characters) in SF/F.

Tomorrow is the launch of the third book, The Vast & Brutal Sea.  I want to share some images of mermaids around town. I asked the lovely ladies of Latin@s in Kid Lit (and some from Twitter friends) to snap photos of mermaids if they happen upon them:

photo (11)

Original art by the super talented Lila Weaver

photo (9)

From Stephanie Guerra. Cafe Torino, downtown Seattle

Triton! South Beach

Triton! South Beach

The Sagamore Hotel in South Beach

The Sagamore Hotel in South Beach


From @PoccoQuattro.

A friend sent this to me. Art by Paul Webb from St. Louis.

A friend sent this to me. Art by Paul Webb from St. Louis.

And now from my apartment, the Chateau Mer-mont: 

mermaid bottle opener

Her tail opens bottles. That’s talent.

mermaid and coney

My bookend…not holding up any books.

mermaid fancy

My fancy mermaid being fancy


I hope from now on you’ll start seeing mermaids everywhere. For now, follow my blog tour over at www.zoraidacordova.com I hope you enjoy the rest of our SF/F month!


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