With the opportunity to make a difference, I am joining the 2017 Librotraficante caravan. I assert that Mexican American Studies (MAS) can be life-changing. I myself had an indirect route before reaching my final destination: MAS.
My literary history paved a winding trajectory. It started with my familial feminism: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I knew Mexican literature could enrich my life, but I was initially too young to fully understand her work. Reading was not a party in my head until I accidentally found Carlos Fuentes in the library. My immigrant identity felt validated, yet I had, ironically, no way to define my experience in the United States. My high school and college mentors exposed me to African American Studies in English and history classes, so I felt solidarity with Minority Studies. In my German classes, my teachers and professors (a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall) focused on Jewish literature addressed to a German audience, and the literature furthered my understanding of Othering and the rebellion thereof. Then, I read South African literature, and I understood some of the Afrikaans with my mesh of English, Spanish, and German—it was the first time I became aware that my knowledge of language participated in colonization. Consequently, I became a language runaway in Studio Art but found refuge in poetry because it seemed to be the only way to break grammar rules without being ridiculed.
After college, my activist mom introduced me to Tony Diaz, and I participated in Nuestra Palabra’s MFA Initiative to apply to MFA programs in Creative Writing. Nuestra Palabra was the first to introduce me to MAS, and during my MFA studies, I read Luis Valdez to influence my play. Additionally, Chicano poet Arnoldo Garcia became my tío in the Bay Area. But at the time, I did not identify as a Chicana.
When I returned to Texas, I fell in love with Gloria Anzaldúa’s consciousness and her decolonization. Her ideas about “counterstance” against rigidity made sense, and I found myself in her “mental nepantilism,” an interspace where I navigate my pluralities. Anzaldúa solidified my “conscious rupture” against oppression.
I also read Chicanas like Cherríe Moraga, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Helena Maria Viramontes, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Norma Cantú, Emmy Perez, ire’ne lara silva, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Pat Mora, Gwendolyn Zepeda, Tammy Gomez, Deniz “dee!colonize” Lopez, Lauren Espinoza, Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Tonantzín Canestaro-García, Virginia Grise, and elena minor. Their work gave me a sense of sisterhood, so the term Chicana felt like coming home.
MAS transformed me into who I am. My hope is that with the caravan, Arizona youth will have access to what I found to be so powerful.
Even with my testimony aside, the 2011 Cambium Report informs that the Tucson Unified School District and Mexican American Studies Department concluded that MAS “increased student achievement for all students of all ethnicities.”
Need a shorter link to this historia? bit.ly/bmmpost2
Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal lives as a rhyming-slogan creative activist. She is a Generation 1.5 poet (mexicana and Chicana), a translator, a sonic-improv collaborator, and an instructor of English. Get in touch with Stalina at firstname.lastname@example.org.