20 Years of Latino Writers Having Their Say
How did Nuestra Palabra start, what was the idea behind it?
I’m the first Chicano to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. I moved here from Chicago, but from my first day here I made it a point to step outside of the “ivory tower” and into the community. That led me to conducting writing workshops in different community centers, some of which were the first ones ever organized there.
These places included the then Chicano Family Center, Talento Bilingue de Houston. Multi Cultural Education and Counseling for the arts, MECA, even produced a musical version of my novel THE AZTEC LOVE GOD. I also worked with Central Americans applying for political asylum, I taught Citizenship classes, and worked with other parts of the Latino community that were not directly related to the MFA program.
I remember thinking, “There’s so many Latinos in Houston, so many stories. So much talent. I can’t believe there’s not a reading series for Latinos. I wonder when someone will start one.”
Of course, I kept asking myself that until I finished my MFA, had my novel THE AZTEC LOVE GOD published, and then realized that if i could envision such a reading series, perhaps I was the one had to knock it into motion. Of course, starting a literary series or a cultural movement is not something taught in an MFA program. There was no instruction manual, but that never stopped our community before.
On Wednesday, April 22, 1998, Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say convened for the first time.
Our first literary showcase took place in the party hall of Chapultepec Restaurant, in Houston, Texas.
People told us that no one would come. People told that us that our community was not interested in books. People told us that there were not enough Tejan@, Latin@, or Chican@, writers for us to even hold more than one showcase.
It is a pleasure and an honor that 20 years later, we are still proving everyone wrong.
In your opinion, what’s the place of Latino and Latin American literature in the US?
Latino writers do not have the luxury of simply being writers. It’s also hard to determine where we stand in the mainstream literary world because the ground we stand on keeps moving. So the first question becomes what is the role of literature today in general? What is the role of the book?
One very practical way to illustrate that is to remind folks that we used to work with the now defunct chain Borders Bookstore. We have outlived a giant corporate entity. Of course, when the government said they were going to close the borders, we didn’t realize that’s what the meant.
Our Latino Book Festivals were massive because of the golden era of mainstream Latino publishing. But the publishing world in generarl is suffering. But now there are many poets who have moved to other mediums such as Facebook, Ebooks, Instagram, YouTube. Live poetry spots are flourishing. So we are in a state of upheaval, where hard concrete centers are crumbling, but other forums are thriving.
And of course, Arizona banned Mexican American Studies. That’s why veterans from Nuestra Palabra became Librotraficantes, to defy Arizona anti-intellectual law. We joined with the students, activists, scholars, lawyers and writers from Tucson, and then the entire nation to fight against that racist, un-American law. The discrimination that fueled that law is latent in business and other policies. If that law had been passed just a generation or two earlier, our community would have been decimated. We would not be having this intellectual discussion right now. Instead, our community united and overturned that law.
We are blessed generation that get to see the beginning of something like and the end.
We are now fighting for Mexican American Studies in Texas, and it is thrilling to see that grow, too.
But again, we as Chicana, Chicano, Latino, Latinx writers do not have the luxury of simply being only writers. But we are blessed to get to see how our words change the world.
During these 20 years, what has NP accomplished?
* Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say founded April 1998 in the party hall of Chapultepec Restaurant in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, Texas.
* The Nuestra Palabra Radio Show begins broadcasting on 90.1 FM KPFT in March of 2001.
* NP organized the Latino Book and Family Festival 2002-2007 -the largest book fair in Houston and one of the largest in Texas, drawing up to 30,000 people to the GRB Convention Center.
* NP has cultivated 14 Latinos who have earned Master’s degrees or Master of Fine Arts in Writing.
* 5 NP alums were the founders of the 2012 Librotraficante Caravan, which joined a national movement to defy Arizona’s ban of Mexican American Studies.
* Several NP alums have gone on to great careers in writing:
– Russell Contreras is now a reporter for the Associated Press;
– Alvaro Saar Rios is a professor and his plays have been produced nation-wide;
– Poet Carolina Monsivais is completing her PhD and has published 2 collections of poetry;
– Journalist and poet Icess Fernandez is a Professor of English at Lone Star College-King Wood;
– Lupe Mendez co-founded the Librotraficante Caravan and is founder of Tintero Proejcts and his book is coming out;
– Poet Jasmine Mendez has her 2nd book coming out in March, and there are many others.
– Our April 25 Celebration features writers who we have known and worked with on or stage, or radio show, or with different projects and who we know celebrate the publication of their books.
Posted: April 18, 2018 at 11:25 pm