Monday, January 23, 2017

An Open Letter from a Brown Writer to His Brown Daughters

 Women's March - January 21, 2017
Austin, Texas
I went to the Women's march on January 21, 2017, the day after perhaps one of the saddest days for America, if not the world. I thought the timing was a little off and I didn't know what to expect. What I experienced was possibly one of the most uplifting and healing days of my life. It was in perfect timing. I experienced solidarity and love. After the march, I sat under a tree on the Texas Capitol grounds and listened to Lloyd Doggett, then the next speaker was announced. There were hundreds of people in front of me so I couldn't see the stage, but like the voice of an angel, it seemed that Joaquin Zihuatanejo spoke to me and me only with his open letter to his daughters. It was as if the 18 year old version of me was hearing his words. I found myself wishing that someone would have said these words to me as a child. It touched me on a very deep level. Tears flowed down my face. I felt like a brown girl, in a sea of white friends, who never really felt like I belonged because the stories I read and heard my whole life, were not my stories. Texas history books didn't interest me, they didn't tell my story. It wasn't until I discovered Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me Ultima" that any story came close to telling my story.

Luna Chick
By Christina Fajardo

For the past 3 years, I have been researching my very rich Hispanic history that spans over a 500 year time period from Spain to New Mexico and then finally, in my generation, to Texas.  I thought that in a couple of years I would have all my information collected and organized, I would write a book about my ancestors to pass down to the generations that come after me. I have come to realize that I will never be finished collecting information, however, the information keeps coming to me and I will continue to write until I leave this Earth. I have come to realize that I am the chosen one of my generation, the spirit and the words of my ancestors come through me and I must respect that. I have a responsibility to write. My mother was the one of her generation, my son Christian keeps our heritage alive by cooking our native food at his restaurant and now I see that my great-niece Ava is at prolific writer. She wrote a story about her trip to Big Bend and presenting it to her grandmother for Christmas.

Christian - Taco Circus - St Louis

Ava writing on the floor at our Christmas family gathering

I am taking Joaquin's advice. I am just going to write. Thank you Joaquin from the bottom of my heart. You will find the transcript of his essay/poem written to his daughtersAiyana and Dakota
And 50,000 of his closest friends in Austin, Texas, as read from the steps of the Texas State Capitol Building for Women Rising

Click here to see the---> video of Joaquin Zihuatanejo
speaking at the Women's March
Produced by ZGraphix Productions
An Open Letter from a Brown Writer
to His Brown Daughters
Who Both Dream of Writing

Father, Teacher, Poet
© 2017 by Joaquín Zihuatanejo

1. Write. Just write. Be it poem or prose, true or false. Get it out of you and onto the page. I firmly believe we would have more Brown readers if we had more Brown writers. You have a responsibility here, as do I, not to ourselves but to that skinny 10 year old girl from the barrio or from the fields who has read 27 books from beginning to end in her short life and never loved one of them completely because she has yet to read a story that sounds like hers.

2. For every white male writer a teacher assigns you to read, find a Latina writer to read as well. Don’t let anyone tell you the numbers will never add up. I’ll get you started with a short list here:

Julia Alvarez, Sandra Rodriguez Barron, Sandra Benitez, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Angie Cruz, Cynthia Cruz, Natalie Diaz, Laura Esquivel, Christina Garcia, Ada Limón and Esmeralda Santiago

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.....
Estos son sólo algunos entre la multitud.
These are merely a few among the multitude.

3. You don’t have to go to far off galaxies in your mind’s eye for ideas for poems. Start in your grandmother’s kitchen, en el jardin de su madre. Listen to lovers quarrel at the taquería, watch closely as the tortillas bubble and blacken on the comal, feel your tía’s hands as she returns home from the fields, or the classroom, or the office. There are poems and stories all around you just waiting to be found. Sometimes you don’t even have to look for them. We are a loud people. We argue loudly. We love loudly. We live loudly. Sit in the middle of all that noise. Silence yourself, and the poem will find you.

4. In many stories they, and in some instances we, assign our women characters to the role of curandera, or field worker, or maid, or nanny. And they are those things. Those things are honest and good and worthy of being written about. They should be written about. But I challenge you to remember that they are also poets, and teachers, and doctors, and senators, and dreamers, and song singers, and majority vote getters in Presidential elections. When you are creating your characters, many times inspired by living breathing women, you must remember who you come from, who you are, and who you are destined to be.

5. When writing a story or poem you must know that sometimes the word for what you want to say does not exist in English, in those moments I implore you to fall back en la lengua de sus Abuelas, the tongue of your grandmothers. A little white cross beside the road to mark the spot where someone has tragically died, is sixteen English words trying to say one thing, one undeniably tragic and poetic thing, but even with all those words, it still falls short. Pero la palabra in Español, but the word in Spanish...descanso...yes, that says it all perfectly.

6. It won’t always be this way, but for now, many editors, many publishers, many men will see you as Brown. See you as woman. Before they see you as equal. Before they see you as anything else. Perhaps for your daughter or theirs it will be different, but you must know at times the fight is rigged. Unfair. But you are your mother’s daughters, even before you are my daughters. If that means anything, it means this: you will fight. You will write.
You will write the wrongs of this world.

7. You come from women who grew things from the land. Food from the earth. Food for their people. Something from nothing. Photosynthesis is a fancy word they made up to define our magic. A magic that exists in you. Remember that magic when you stare at the blank page. Remember that magic when they try to make you feel less than. You, strong Brown women, were born to rise. 

8. Your strength is stronger than their ignorance.

9. Trust your voice my daughters. It took me a lifetime to learn that. Don’t let it take you as long. Know that the world is ready for your voice. Your time is now. We are listening. I am listening. I am listening to every single one of you. I’ve grown weary of my own voice. I want to hear yours. Like you, I hope that my writing changes someone, heals them, charges them to act. But I’m too close to my own writing for it to have that affect on me. I’m waiting for your poem, your story to save me in every way a person can be saved. So speak, sing, write. Press the pencil down hard when you do. Trust me when I say, you will leave an impression on things you were not intending to impress.

10. Your heart is free. Have the courage to write from that place inside you where love resides, where beauty resides, where freedom resides. When you do, you will come to the undeniable truth that no man can ever build his wall around your voice.

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