Scholar Stories: Carmela Valdez

How do you use writing or art in your life?

I recently purchased several prints for my bedroom. One Frida, one Diego, and 3 Jade Leyvas (an artist out of New Mexico). Surrounding myself with pieces of beautiful art makes me happy. These paintings speak to me like wise friends that gently and tenderly give love and words of encouragement. Los Dos Fridas tells me that Frida walked the path before me. She spoke through her art and it gave her life meaning. She cleared the path for many of us. She experienced hardships and came out on the other side sometimes broken but still surviving. Diego reminds me to live in color, to dance with joy in bright yellows and rich orange. Diego tells me to use my art to change the world and speak truth to power. Jade tells me that even though my heart is broken, I sews it back together again with the experiences that only I have lived. My heart that was broken when my father passed away is stronger and can love more deeply because of loss. The art speaks to me and makes me know I’m not alone.

What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship

My parents grew up poor Spanish speaking kids in south Texas. They knew that for them, an education was important. When others told them that they couldn’t accomplish their goals, they both marched forwards anyway. They wanted my sister and me to have all as many opportunities possible and for them that was through an education. It was our beacon of light. They both went on to get their master’s degrees and teach. Sometimes I think my parents became what their oppressors feared most, an educated Latino.

My father was a huge baseball fan. His favorite team was the Astros (before they won anything or cheated). They were the worst team in the league for many years and it never deterred my father. He always rooted for the underdog, always saw good in them while others laughed. I guess he was that underdog in his youth. It is why he always told his students that they could do it, get and education, give back to their communities. He was rooting for them too. That rubbed off on me. I’m not as huge of a baseball fan as he was but I do make sure to try and find the good in people (not always successful) and cheer for those that the world says might not make it far. It is one of the most important lessons he taught me. 

What would you tell your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that you are becoming who you are supposed to be, and your experience will make stronger and smarter. Learn to speak Spanish earlier, don’t be scared to make mistakes. Also, don’t be afraid to tell people what you think! What you think is important too!

Advice for new scholars and/or teachers:

I would tell new teachers to celebrate the beauty of your students work! Don’t get caught up in a deficit mentality. Your students come with language, culture, experience and knowledge! Don’t listen when people say that they don’t. Move them forward from where they are, love them, cherish them because the moments we have with them are precious. This is very real for teachers right now. I miss my students every day. Recognize that being part of their life’s story is an honor and the marks that we leave on them, good or bad, can last for generations.

Something else you want to share?

Your writing is for you! Write it all, good or bad, sad or happy. Writing makes it real. Be gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself and give yourself permission to not be perfect! Write it all!

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