by Ramona Pilar
Claps and Cheers is a column dedicated to honoring pioneers and visionary storytellers who have forged their own path in their creative careers. This month we focus on honoring one’s own reality as seen through the work of Soraya Membreno, Vickie Vértiz, and Vanessa Angélica Villarreal.
I gotta be honest. At the risk of sounding snarky, I don’t like a lot of stuff right now. I mentioned this to a friend of mine the other day and he said, “But… you don’t like most things.” And yeah, it’s true. There isn’t a lot of stuff out there that I can say that I like, much less love and feel passionate about. The older I’ve gotten, the less connected I feel to the culture in which I live because I still don’t see myself reflected in it.
I used to be inspired by the concept of “paint[ing] my own reality,” this idea that if I don’t see myself reflected in the art and culture around me, it’s my job to produce it, to fill that niche. Keeping inspired, keeping focused, keeping in touch with what I now see as an idealistic philosophy has proven to be challenging, to say the least. There’s the reality I want to create, and the one in which I have to live and work and try to earn money and sustain myself. More often than not, I find they are at odds with each other which makes it difficult to have faith in my ability to communicate a reality that I know exists, even if I don’t see it in the world around me.
I’ve been trying to find the thing that will kickstart me back into connecting with even just a spark of passion for creating and connecting with language.
So I am hugely grateful to Soraya Membreno at Bitch Magazine for her interview with poets Vickie Vértiz and Vanessa Angélica Villarreal: Fierce as Fuck The Future of Poetry is Brown and Queer
I’m grateful that Vértiz wrote, and finished, Palm Frond with its Throat Cut.
That she writes about Southeast Los Angeles as opposed to writing about Hollywood or West Los Angeles (which I really don’t like). That she writes about living in places that are “unbearably hard,” but still being able to “find and create beautiful things.”
I’m grateful that Villarreal wrote and finished Beast Meridian.
That this book came out of a “project of trying to write [her]self into existence.” That even though the book “narrated a point of view that was so virulently attacked,” she drove it through to existence.
I’m grateful to Soraya Membreno for pitching, writing, and finishing her interview with these two wonderful Latinx poets. That she understands and found it necessary to let the rest of the Bitch readers know that “Despite what National Hispanic Heritage Month would have you think, Latinx writers exist year-round!” For interviewing them in a neighborhood plagued by efforts to erase the working-class, Latinx community in favor of redundant coffee bars and furniture boutiques.
I’m grateful to these women who are in media res of their demographics – Masters-degree-having, Latinx, Queer, 1st Gen (and more, I’m sure) and aren’t so much writing for or towards a brand, but creating a sense of reality that builds and expands on the space that writers like Lorna Dee Cervantes, Cherrie Moraga, and so many others created when that space didn’t exist.
Their voices matter to me. Deeply. There is so much out there for which I am not the target audience, that it can be demoralizing. So much so that it affects my commitment to my work, my voice, and my goal, which is, ultimately, to be a part of Life’s conversation.
I reached out to Ms. Vértiz to ask her what it is that she draws from/upon to keep her going in her career as a writer, that convinces her that her voice matters. She was awesome enough to respond. These are the choice bits that spoke to my impotent frustration:
“There’s no pinnacle to reach, no day when you’re done because, for those of us who stake our lives on what we are saying, we must continue…”
“Also, my family lineage is full of illustrators, painters, poets, and because they express their talents in humble ways, they’ve shown me how to be a writer who works. A writer who finishes projects. A writer whose work is not doing its job if only a few see it, or if others can’t see themselves in it.”
By this rubric, these women are getting. It. done. So Claps and Cheers to you Ms. Membreno, Ms. Vértiz, and Ms. Villarreal. I see you. And I’m beginning to see me.