How do you use writing or art in your life?
First, I identify as a writer. I am a former K-8 teacher and was mentored and nourished through writing. Authors I had never met in person spoke to me and my students as if we knew them. I was also surrounded by mentors that identified as writers (a nod to Karen Smith, Sarah Hudelson, and the Silvia Edgerton, who taught in the classroom next door to me). When I became a professor I shifted to academic writing, but I still enjoy reading poetry and memoirs because they inspire me. Sometimes I will also come across academic writers that have such beautifully crafted writing (check out Tim San Pedro’s writing) that reminds me that academic writing can be both informative and beautifully crafted.
I do not produce art, but art is important and speaks to me. I have artists in my family—my mother and daughter are artists and my little brother is a tattoo artist. In my office at the University of Arizona, my teenaged daughter is almost finished painting a mural on my wall that has shifted the energy in there. I feel more inspired and connected to my community through art.
What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship?
I would have to draw on Byrd Baylor’s The Table Where the Rich People Sitto explain this one. My Nana is probably one of the most influential people in my life. When she speaks I get quiet and listen (and watch) because I know that she has a life far richer than most. I come from working class roots. My Nana and Tata raised their children in Superior, Arizona, a mining town. Mining is not an easy life. Yet, I saw my Nana as a matriarch that kept her family close, instilled strong family values, and modeled perseverance in so many ways. A month ago we celebrated her 89thbirthday and as I looked around at her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and even little Maya, her first great-great grandchild, singing her happy birthday, I couldn’t help but feel like my Nana is one of the richest people I know. I carry that with me as a researcher into other communities. Wealth comes in many shapes and sizes, and I know that the strengths, values, and assets I have seen in my Nana’s life are in EVERY community. The big lesson for me is that the things that will make my life rich are rooted in family and community.
What would you tell your younger self?
You are beautiful and uniquely you. You’re not supposed to look like and act like everyone else. Be unapologetically you. Embrace who you are, including your family and community. The legacy of colonization will make you question and conform, but turning from your history and culture is painful. Decolonize and resist! It will provide you with unimaginable strength.
Advice for new scholars and/or teachers:
Prioritize work that matters to you. The work that you wake up excited to get to, that you enjoy telling others about, and that is going to serve the communities you care about. If you are writing about what you love, you will be able to sustain the pressure that often accompanies writing. The same goes for teaching. When I plan learning, I always try to think about the emotional connections young people will have to learning. Of course I want them to learn, but I also want them to have fun. I want them to remember what they did in our 5thgrade class a decade later.
Something else you want to share?
You’ll be surprised years from now by the ways your writing community will have supported and sustained you. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of writing communities. Recently I was packing for a move from Wisconsin to Arizona, and I came across something painful I had written about close to a decade earlier. I read it and cried, then I turned the page and a confetti of colorful post-it notes fell out of my notebook. They were notes from the writing community—notes of affirmation, notes of support, notes of love. It had been a while since I had spoken to some of those people, but I still felt so connected to them after we supported each other through the vulnerable and intimate process of writing. Writing communities are powerful!