Tag Archives: Social Change

Artist Profile: Sarah Rafael García

Name: Sarah Rafael Garcíasarah-rafael-garcia

Hometown: Born in Brownsville, Texas and raised in Santa Ana, California, I claim both.

Residence: Austin, Texas and Santa Ana, California: one a residence with my life partner as he completes his PhD at UT at Austin and currently an artist in residence at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana.

What is your earliest memory of writing?

I started writing after the unexpected death of my father in 1988, I was thirteen. A bereavement social worker, at the hospital where my father passed away, handed me my first journal and advice to use writing as a source of consolation.

How did you become a writer?

In 2004, I ran away from Corporate America and the “American Dream” to live in Beijing as an English teacher and write my first book for 18 months. At the time, I was stressed and disillusioned about many expectations in my life—becoming financially successful, getting married, having children and supporting my sisters and mother. I have been writing since 1988 but never shared my work with anyone outside of my immediate family. I was waiting to retire (with tons a money) and spend beach vacations writing my childhood stories. Yeah I know, not realistic, but since I didn’t grow up with any mentors or support to be a writer that’s all I could imagine for myself, since I had to have a “real” career.

Tell us about your writing process.

I started writing by journaling, with the occasional poem sneaking onto the page. Then I moved on to writing memories, which led me to deconstruct my identity as a first generation college student, Chicana and woman of color—who never married nor has children. But of course that came after I completed a degree in Sociology. After my first book was published in 2008, I recognized I needed to learn more and wanted to offer more to my community. In 2009, I founded Barrio Writers. By leading writing workshops for youth, I broadened my writing interests as well as my style. I began to use more code-switching, experimental format as well as spoken word. Then in 2012, Barrio Writers led me to seek a M.F.A in Creative Writing. I had not written fiction until I submitted a writing sample for M.F.A. applications. Now, I write a lot of hybrid stories—a cross between fiction and non-fiction, contemporary narratives of women and my community. I select a gender role imposed on women or cultural community issue and find a way to tell a story through fiction—sometimes it’s like an ethnographic description, other times it transforms into a parallel world through the lens of magical realism. As far as the process, once I’ve done research into the theme and written 2-3 pages into a story, I become a weaver. I write, go back to the beginning and edit, write 2-4 more pages, maybe do some more research (read literature, look up relevant stuff), go back to the beginning and edit, and the cycle continues until I get to the ending. It’s a love-hate relationship, I love how it all turns out in the end, but some days I lose my patience with editing from the beginning over and over again. I’ve learned to see it as weaving—something that needs to be done to hold it all together, to create details at a micro level but eventually create a pattern only visible at a macro level. I would have laughed aloud and walked back into my 10×10 corporate America cubicle if I was told this had to be my writing process back in 2004. But here I am…

What are you working on now?  

I focus on contemporary female narratives, which include identity, gender and cultural themes. Currently, I am seeking to publish a travel memoir that shares my adventures as a Xicana crossing, literal and figurative, borders. Along with this, I also wrote a collection of feminist short stories as my MFA thesis. The short stories are inspired by news headlines or a quote that typecast female narratives. I use magical realism and play with point of view to deconstruct the role and stereotypes of women in our society.

As part of my artist in residence, I’m working on a special project from March 2016-2017. SanTana’s Fairy Tales is an oral history, storytelling project, which integrates community-based narratives to create contemporary fairy tales and fables that represent the history and stories of Mexican/Mexican-American residents of Santa Ana (inspired by the Grimms’ Fairy Tales).

The forthcoming exhibit at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California will present a multi-media installation, curated in collaboration with local visual, musical, and performance artists. The exhibit will showcase bilingual, single-story zines, a fully illustrated published book, an ebook, a large format classical book, graphic art by Sol Art Radio‘s Carla Zarate, an “open book” performance, along with composed music by Viento Callejero‘s Gloria Estrada, who is supported by local singer/songwriter Ruby Castellanos and members of the Pacific Symphony. The entire collection will be translated by poet Julieta Corpus and published by Raspa Press. The ebook will be produced by Digitus Indie Publishers.

SanTana’s Fairy Tales is supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through a grant supporting the Artist-in-Residence initiative at Grand Central Art Center. The exhibit is scheduled for March 2017.

Through Santana’s Fairy Tales, I hope to give back to the community, which instilled culture, pride and perseverance in my daily life as an artist. I returned to Santa Ana not as a writer, but as a storyteller/artivist who invokes real stories from real community members in order to offer a counter-narrative for the stereotypes and media headlines that feature Mexicans/Mexican-Americans from Santa Ana, California. By using multi-media, I want to initiate a literary discussion and preserve local culture through revitalization in the form of art versus the recent change Santa Ana faces through the influx of gentrification.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Yes, and I’m not a big fan of folks who say it doesn’t exist. I think it does for some of us. There are many complex situations in life that keep some of us from creating. Although I recognize I’m in a privileged position as an artist in residence, my journey and sacrifices are not so easily forgotten, nor is my cost of living. Sometimes I can’t write because I’m trying to budget my money for next month and also my time to do community work. Other times, I’m busy chasing deadlines and I forget that I haven’t seen or spoken to my loved ones in weeks. Then there are those days that I question everything, I question if I’d be happier if I didn’t have to worry how I was going to pay bills next month or where I’m going to live next year. I question if I should go back to a “real” job and get rid of some of these tedious tasks of choosing between healthy food verses cheap food or a new pair of comfortable shoes, since I walk and commute via bike because it’s cheaper than maintaining a car. I question if having no health insurance is actually sane or humane. I question if I’m “academic” enough to land a job as an adjunct professor (even though the pay sucks), because I haven’t yet and I’m 42 years old. Then I’m told I don’t have enough experience on a campus, but folks admire that I’ve maintained Barrio Writers for the last eight years with little to no budget on various campuses in Texas and Southern California. So yes, in these moments I can’t write, all of such thoughts block my process—and they come often. Some days I have to convince myself to just breathe rather than write.

Which writers and teachers have most influenced you as a writer?

I can’t say I have a go-to list of writers, because I’m a big fan of contemporary writers. So those who influence me change on a daily bases—most recently I’ve been enjoying poetry by Macondista Ching-In Chen and Juan Felipe Herrera’s latest collection. For fiction, I‘m currently dissecting Emma Donoghue and Etgar Keret. If I have to resort to those who made me feel like I wanted be like them or just escape this world by flipping a few pages, it all started with Judy Blume and Louisa May Alcott. Then as for the maestra/os, I admire Gabo, Allende, Esquivel, and Castillo. For descriptions, wit and male narratives, I bury my nose in works by Joe Jimenez, Junot Diaz, and Dagoberto Gilb. But at my bedside I have Texas Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero, Leslie Marmon Silko and Toni Morrison—and tomorrow I will add more to each section.

What books have had the biggest impact on your trajectory?

Top 5 List + 1:

  1. All by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Gabo)
  2. Aphrodite by Isabel Allende
  3. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  4. Law of Love by Laura Esquivel
  5. Flesh to Bone by ire’ne lara silva

Plus 1, the latest read: The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits by Emma Donoghue

What’s your advice to aspiring writers?

As writers who have to challenge stereotypes daily, I advise youth (as well as new older writers of color) to be their own mentors and rise above the microaggressions and dismissals from any part of society that seems to be an obstacle to reaching life goals—as so many have done before them. I tell all writers to push through, to write in any shape or form they desire, to adapt critical-thinking in daily life, to share their culture whether it be based on race or just your love for a particular type of music, to speak assertively, “Your voice is your weapon!” Don’t just be the bigger person, role model to those younger and older than you. I also remind all writers to find their support in their community. And if they can’t find it, then create it—begin your own community to empower others like you.

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Luis Valdez’ Actos and El Teatro Campesino

In 1965, Luis Valdez ushered in a new movement of civil rights protest with his formation of El Teatro Campesino, or the Farmworkers’ Theatre. Valdez’ theatre movement served as the cultural ambassador to Cesar Chávez’ civil rights activism by creating actos and performing them for other farmworkers in an attempt to bolster the strength of the union.

El Teatro Campesino was a troupe of striking farmworkers who performed brief actos, or commedia dell’arte-style sketches as a form of agit-prop theatre. This was a political theatre firmly based on improvisations of socio-political issues of the time. Nothing was traditional about this movement; these were Mexican-American/Chicano farmworkers who were eager to develop theatrical statements about their condition in an effort to ignite change.

On the surface, actos are essentially skits, but they transcend the simplicity of skits due to their social justice background. Valdez states, “We could have called them ‘skits,’ but we lived and talked in San Joaquín Spanish so we needed a name that name sense to the Raza.” Valdez’ actos were for the people by the people created to both educate and entertain. Its roots are in Bertolt Brecht’s lehrstucke (learning pieces) and agit-prop theatre of revolutionary Russia. Chicanos had issues that need to be expressed and the acto was the most efficient way to make a political statement and demonstrate the growing dissatisfaction with the status quo in the United States.

According to Valdez, the 5 goals of the acto are:

  1. Inspire the audience to social action
  2. Illuminate specific points about social problems
  3. Satirize the opposition
  4. Show or hint at a solution
  5. Express what people are thinking

Perhaps most notable is that the actos were created primarily through improvisation based on the experiences of the participants. Therefore, there was hardly a distinction between the worker and the actor; they were one in the same. By utilizing the personal experiences and stories of the workers, El Teatro Campesino was capable of creating theatre that accurately reflected its participants and audience. Valdez affirms, “In a Mexican way, we have discovered what Brecht is all about. If you want unbourgeois theater, find unbourgeois people to do it.” This aspect helped the Teatro to be more effective.

The acto in its most basic form only needs 2 characters and a conflict – information about who they are, where they are, and what they are doing. The conflict is the essential element that is necessary; through the acto, the participants seek a solution to the conflict. The actos worked to expose the problems of Chicano/Mexican-American workers. For decades, if not centuries, they had been an important workforce in the United States, especially in California. Far too often, their struggles had gone unnoticed or ignored. The Chicano Teatro Movement sought to eradicate their absence from history by giving the group voice. El Teatro Campesino marked the birth of the contemporary Chicano Theatre Movement and inspired other similar groups to follow their lead and illustrate the problems surrounding the farm workers.

El Teatro Campesino would travel around California and perform their actos at farms, fields, college campuses, churches, theaters, and community halls in an effort to create a cathartic experience for theatergoers.

Show Me the Money! Venus Williams and the Fight for Pay Equity in Tennis

The first tennis match I remember watching was the 1998 Miami final between teenagers Venus Williams and Anna Kournikova. Immediately, I was enthralled with Venus. Everything about her was different than anything I ever thought tennis could or would be. She wore hundreds of multi-colored beads in her hair and ushered in Big-Babe Tennis as Mary Carillo soon dubbed it. 15 years later, I still am enamored by Venus, only now it has less to do with her brand of tennis and more to do with how she carries herself off the court. While she has won 7 Grand Slam singles titles, 13 doubles titles, 2 mixed doubles titles, and 4 Olympic Gold medals, her contributions off the court perhaps outweigh if not entirely eclipse her performance on it. She stands alongside Billie Jean King as one of tennis’ most influential ambassadors.

Perhaps unaware to the general public, Venus’ efforts toward gender equality and equal pay have been one of the most important developments in the history of modern professional tennis. For years, Venus, alongside Billie Jean King and others, fought for equality and social change within a sport that was undeniably dated in its views towards women and men. Ultimately, in 2007, Wimbledon caught up with modern times and agreed to pay both its male and female champions equal prize money. The US Open and Australian Open had been doing this for years and popular opinion in and around the sport were urging the All England Club not to be on the wrong side of history. Even Tony Blair and UNESCO had been advocating for the change.

In truth, the gap between prize money had been more symbolic than anything. In 2006, Roger Federer received $1.17 million whereas Amelie Mauresmo received $1.117 million, or 95% of what Federer was paid. The Club’s supporters claimed that women played less than men did and that the men’s stars drew higher television ratings and were generally more marketable. Even though the men technically play “longer” matches, the difference in prize money was so little that it did not truly reflect the difference in games or sets played. This was about the club refusing to see women as equals to men.

In 2006, Venus provided the definitive move and push towards equal prize money. Williams said: “You should definitely see the merit in people getting paid or being treated equal as people, not on sex.” In a letter she wrote that was published in The Times, Venus argued:

I feel so strongly that Wimbledon’s stance devalues the principle of meritocracy and diminishes the years of hard work that women on the tour have put into becoming professional tennis players.

I believe that athletes – especially female athletes in the world’s leading sport for women – should serve as role models. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message.

Wimbledon has argued that women’s tennis is worth less for a variety of reasons; it says, for example, that because men play a best of five sets game they work harder for their prize money.

This argument just doesn’t make sense; first of all, women players would be happy to play five sets matches in grand slam tournaments.

Secondly, tennis is unique in the world of professional sports. No other sport has men and women competing for a grand slam championship on the same stage, at the same time. So in the eyes of the general public the men’s and women’s games have the same value.

Third, we enjoy huge and equal celebrity and are paid for the value we deliver to broadcasters and spectators, not the amount of time we spend on the stage. And, for the record, the ladies’ final at Wimbledon in 2005 lasted 45 minutes longer than the men’s.

Wimbledon has justified treating women as second class because we do more for the tournament. The argument goes that the top women – who are more likely also to play doubles matches than their male peers – earn more than the top men if you count singles, doubles and mixed doubles prize money. So the more we support the tournament, the more unequally we should be treated! But doubles and mixed doubles are separate events from the singles competition. Is Wimbledon suggesting that, if the top women withdrew from the doubles events, that then we would deserve equal prize money in singles? And how then does the All England Club explain why the pot of women’s doubles prize money is nearly £130,000 smaller than the men’s doubles prize money?

I intend to keep doing everything I can until Billie Jean’s original dream of equality is made real. It’s a shame that the name of the greatest tournament in tennis, an event that should be a positive symbol for the sport, is tarnished.

Poetically, Venus was the first beneficiary of Wimbledon’s equal prize money. In 2007, she received $1.41 million, the exact same amount as Roger Federer.

Why is this important to me? Venus’ fight for equal prize money in tennis was one of the first issues of gender equality that I closely followed as an adult. For years, I questioned the lack of equality within the sport. To be honest, I didn’t understand it. I had always valued women’s tennis and, for the better part of my “tennis life,” I was more interested in the women’s game than the men’s. Equality seemed a necessity to me.

Still, this issue does not appear to be over. Several male players have voiced their discontent over equal prize money, most notably Gilles Simon. While Simon mentioned the debate over the length of matches, he also focused on male tennis players’ perceived celebrity status. According to Simon, more fans watch men’s tennis because it is more “interesting.” By this logic, Simon should be paid less that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer because he isn’t as well known. There are many faulty areas of Simon’s comments, but this one was my favorite. Thankfully, the majority of those in and around professional tennis believe in equal prize money and gender equality within the sport.

Tonight, ESPN films will present a new documentary, as part of its Title IX series, based on Venus’ fight for equal prize money. Venus Vs. highlights the different hurdles and obstacles that Williams had to face throughout her career while focusing on her relationship with Wimbledon and its disproportion of prize money payouts. Director Ava DuVernay rightfully paints Venus as the feminist activist that she is, making gender equality at Wimbledon stand out as a constant factor in her motivation to succeed in the sport. As she became one of the greatest Wimbledon champions of all time, she found herself in a powerful position to serve as an ambassador to the game in which she could influence the future of women’s tennis.

On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, I am thrilled that ESPN is devoting much-needed prime time television to Venus’ fight as well as the other women involved in the series (The teaser trailer looks great!). Hopefully, this does not serve as simply a reminder of our nation’s recent history, but serves as a call-to-action in which gender equality remains a necessity in and out of the sports realm.