How do you use writing or art in your life?
I think all humans are wired to create. I see evidence of our creativity all around the universe as reflected by different designs in buildings, cars, clothes, walls, and the list goes on. For me, writing is a creative process and has many purposes. One major function of writing is to record events important to me. I use writing to satisfy the curiosity in me. I ask questions. I use these questions to write. One question leads to another question. Along the way I use the questions to learn. Embracing a culture of curiosity allows me open to different viewpoints and experiences. The creative process involves finding the right words to describe what I want to say in just the right way until I am satisfied. If I decide to make my writing public, I want to know my audience will appreciate and gain greater understanding of who I am as an individual.
As an artist I experiment with a metal, I ask, “what would happen if…” and “why?’ Asking questions leads to self-discoveries. It is important to ask questions and continue with better questions. In the end I decide whether I want to share my product. It is a risk-taking process involving some work never leaving my notebook or studio.
I wrote the cuento/story, Cuentame, Writing by the Stoves, San Antonio Writing Anthology. The cuento was born after decades of questions beginning when I asked my father where the rusty stoves I enjoyed writing with sheet rod as a child originated. I basically converted the stoves to a writing blackboard. Dad said the stoves were pulled from the internment camp in Crystal City. I had never heard of an internment camp in Crystal City. I had never read about an interment camp in history books. Through the decades, I confirmed the existence of the internment camp and persistently returned to the subject of children playing in the camp. When I picture myself so close to such a sad and dark era in our country, I become momentarily paralyzed. Dad still describes the logistics of the camp and the people he saw. Now I know that classified government documents have been recently released, TheTrainto Crystal CityTrain by Jan Jarbo Russell. Oral traditions, provided by my father provided perspectives on an omitted part of United States history.
As a young University professor, I learned that my story of the existence of this internment Camp so close to San Antonio disrupted teachers’ paradigms. Nevertheless as a teacher educator I was obligated to present new paradigms through this cuento.
I asked my parents why the pyramid-like structures in Zacatecas were still standing. My mother said that when she was a young child, she eavesdropped and overheard the use of milk and eggs indigenous people used in the recipe to construct the structures. Later, I read in the Express-News San Antonio, adobe brick samples at the Alamo had traces of goat hair and milk. This leads me to my next question; will these ingredients strengthen my cement jewelry formula?
Writing and art are solitary at times, collaborative at others and they allow time to spend time questioning individuals/s about all sorts of things. I took the time to question my father about one Internment camp in Crystal City over several decades.
I continue developing a philosophy of learning by delving into the different art forms. For me discovering the use of multiple sources and answering my own questions are resources I use in writing.
What lessons/teachings from your family, home and /or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship?
Our community is rich with culture and language we need to preserve. We need to learn from our traditions. We also need to decide which parts to leave behind. We need to constantly study all aspects of our community for lessons. Our multiple roles as mothers, teachers, and mentors in our community need to be explored as they are and as they could be. We need to understand the changes we need to make. I am privileged to have a 97-year-old Dad and 94-year-old Mom. They speak Spanish and have given me an interesting lens into literature. I am always curious about my parents’ resources, “how did you learn carpentry?” How did you read that book so fast when it took me 5 long days? Can you tell me more about the Interment camps in Crystal City? I wonder why this is not in our history books!
Resources and knowledge in our elders need to be respected, explored and documented. I am excited when Spanish surfaces into my English stories. I owe this to my parents.
I am so glad I met Maria de la Luz Reyes who wrote, Mamácita Mia: Her Three Lives published in Fronteras, a Journal of Women Studies. Her work and words liberated me. I started to write about self and my family which Maria considered a rich source of knowledge.
What would you tell your younger self?
Trust yourself especially in toxic racist environments.
Write to make this unjust world more just. Subtle stories convey many realities about home, family, and community.
You will meet wonderful teachers and mentors that will share their wisdom, knowledge, and courage. Other people will magnify, and dramatize some very colorful delightful mysteries.
Consider sharing and obtaining feedback from those you trust as you collect words, thoughts, and ideas for your notebook writing. Let go of writings so that they become public.
Advice for new scholars and/ or teachers:
I miss my quirky students. They possessed the gift, truth telling. I have learned so much from all of them (K-University). I think of them often hoping every one of them is happy and doing well.
I remember my high school pyromaniac who shared setting his uncles shed on fire. He was a football player who told me I had to share my stories. I did. He wanted me to share stories about how I almost lost my life. He provided the theme and I provided the stories for a year. They became story starters. Little did I know that I would become well know for these short stories?
A student came in late, about 20 minutes late every morning in high school. He was a unique writer. Taking the liberty to ask why he was late, he wrote a long essay. Basically, his mother was on drugs and he has to feed his young siblings breakfast and then walk them to school. This routine made him late to school. Every three tardies equal 1 absence and 3 absences equaled alerts to the court system. When the student alerted the administration of his situation they listened. Later, I found out that he had dropped out. This is a case when we lose a brilliant student to difficult circumstances in a school system.
As a student walks into my classroom opening a window, she screams out daily she loves the world and names the people she loves. As my name is one she included, my face lights up. What a spirit, what a joy she has for life. Then, the female student stops and she disappears. When she comes back to school she does not respond to her friends. We all know something happened to her. We do not know what to say to comfort her. Nothing! What or who destroyed that magnificent spirit in this child? The whole class wondered and tried to uplift her but nothing made her happy anymore.
When you teach 160-80 students a day, a teacher is exposed to chilling situations. Equally if you teach students in different grades you will be exposed to harsh realities of life.
You will also be in the presence of students who do not need you because they find their own way, they are innovative, self-learners. You will appreciate all students for the lessons they present to you and vis/versa.