September 30, 2012

Creativity Salon: an Interview With Poet Diana Garcia

Welcome to Bookjoy Creativity Salon, Diana! It was such a pleasure to meet and hear you at AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) in Chicago last March. Your words about me at our panel were incredibly generous. I treasure them. Among other talents, you are a poet, a professor, and a committed advocate.

Diana, please tell us a bit about yourself.

“The biggest influences on me probably are being born to parents who worked in the fields and who were living in a labor camp when I was born. The camp and the people who lived and worked in the camp served as my earliest role models for what it is to live an honorable, hard-working life. At the end of your life, all you have is your reputation as a hard worker and the respect of those you worked with. Then, the San Joaquin Valley engraved its dry flatness on my consciousness. From an early age, I understood the importance of rain, the lack of rain when needed, the overabundance of rain at the wrong time. I reflect often on water and its many and various aspects. Finally, becoming a single mother when I was 20, struggling with the powerlessness of having to rely on welfare to make ends meet, filled me with a rage that's never completely left me. I discovered the tone deafness of those who have always known a privileged existence. It also makes me deeply grateful for all that I now have: a patient, generous husband and partner; parents, son and grandsons who make me proud to be part of the clan; and a university where I can teach what I've learned about writing and about living.”

Let me begin by asking about your work as a poet. You wrote the collection, When Living Was a Labor Camp, published in 2000. Such a moving title. Can you tell us about the impetus for that collection?
I wrote When Living Was a Labor Camp out of a deep commitment to the generations of farm workers whose sacrifices weren’t represented adequately in the poetry I read in the 1990s. In my own family, one uncle was poisoned and died after picking tomatoes in a field that had been sprayed with pesticides. Another uncle, a former bracero whose permit had expired, was picked up during Operation Wetback in the 50s and 60s and returned to Mexico. In both cases, the men left behind women who struggled to raise children on their own. I also wanted to capture the perseverance of the generations that followed, the children and grandchildren whose lives were impacted by prejudice. Finally, I wanted to write a book that my parents and my aunts and uncles could read, hear and understand and know their lives, and those of their children, were being honored.

In what ways does creativity shape your work and your life?
I have always trusted my response to the natural world, that sense of self that is best reflected by moments in nature. Similarly, when I write, I feel a sense of connectedness to the world around me, to the expressions and experiences reverberating in the world. Writing also is like intellectual weight lifting for me. Much as a sturdy weight lifting workout leaves me drained and tranquil, a good bout of writing leaves my brain strangely emptied and refreshed.

I know you teach an upper division course, Social Action Writing. How did that course evolve and can you tell us a bit about it?
California State University Monterey Bay, established in 1994, is the first university in the CSU system to require 30 hours of service learning at each of the lower and upper division levels. Within our interdisciplinary humanities and communication major, two such courses, “Social Action Writing” and “Creative Writing and Service Learning” (originally titled “Creative Writing for Teachers”), were developed as part of our creative writing and social action program. The focus is on learning as much as it is on service. We value the commitment our neighboring communities—Seaside, Salinas, Marina, Monterey and Pacific Grove—made to converting the former Ft. Ord to a university. Not just communities, but the neighboring counties of San Benito and Santa Cruz were also involved. We want our students to learn from this level of civic engagement, this commitment to the issues affecting our neighbors and colleagues. In “Creative Writing and Service Learning,” students focus on using creative writing to engage children’s creativity and imagination in after school and community school programs. In “Social Action Writing,” depending on the theme that semester, students might work with community partners examining substandard housing, pesticide poisoning, educational inequality, or the peace movement. Our partnerships are on-going and a vital part of our students’ education.

In a political introduction recently, Obama was described as “burning on the inside” referring to his passion for a just nation. Though I was only with you briefly, my sense is that Diana Garcia also burns on the inside. Am I right?
Injustices of any kind anger me, especially since in most cases, injustice is leveled by those with power against those who are voiceless and powerless.

What were you like as a child and what advice would you have given to that young, beautiful self?
As a child, I was a bookworm, reclusive, and living in a world of my imagination. I imagined a world of books, of teaching, of travel. I never would have imagined that all my dreams would come true, and then some!

September 25, 2012

Fall Beauty in the Desert

I’ve spent much of my life in the Chihuahua Desert of the Southwest. I’m at home in this landscape that some consider stark and bare. Yes, it gets plenty hot, but it also rains, though not often enough, and we do shiver in snow. The desert teaches me to notice: small wildflowers and the lizards I so cherish. In the fall, Santa Fe turns to gold: locust and immense cottonwood trees, sunflowers, firewheels (gaillardias), chamisa (rabbitbrush), yellow wildflowers such as golden crownbeard--all transform hills, fields, paths, gardens: suffuse them with light. I wish I could meet all of you who visit my blog. Here’s a small gift.

          A Bouquet of Wild Asters

          When nights cool,

          wild asters wriggle

          out of the desert sand, s t r e t c h

          day after day, and gradually unfold

          into surprises:

                    lavender bouquets.

                    Pat Mora ©

September 19, 2012

What Does History Teach Us?

Some months back, while skimming a magazine on a treadmill, I read an article, “The Art of Gaman” and learned that gaman in Japanese refers to “bearing the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” The article was about a traveling exhibit (that also became a book), and I noticed that the exhibit was coming here, to Santa Fe. I saw the exhibit, and though I had read a number of articles about it, the experience was heart-breaking.

Facts seldom cause us to fully feel sorrow. The facts, that FDR issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, that people of Japanese descent were now officially labeled our enemies, don’t force us to ask: how did it feel to lose your rights, to be separated from your family, to live in “barracks” that were actually shacks, to be isolated, prisoners. How did families who were together strive to create a home in stark conditions? How did men in all-male camps such as one in Santa Fe draw on their emotional reserves and not only create a community, but in the various camps, create art. They taught themselves and one another to be inordinately resourceful making rings from peach pits, making beautiful wooden bird pins inspired by an article in National Geographic. The group in Santa Fe painted and wrote poetry.

And today, seventy years later, what have we learned about how we treat those who don’t look like us or who may speak another language or languages? Fear breeds hatred and heartache. How do we teach our young to learn from the past?

Watch the video "The Art of Gaman" by Smithsonian Magazine.

The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the
Japanese Internments Camps 1942-1946
by Delphine Hirasuna

September 17, 2012

Bookjoy: Developing Día for Its 17th Anniversary

Next month we will learn the 2012 winner(s) of the Estela and Raúl Mora Award. They’ll join the list of 17 other impressive, exemplary programs  since 2000. My personal theme for Día in the coming academic year is Developing Día. Zen Buddhists refer to Beginner’s Mind, the concept of trying to embark on a project with a fresh and curious mind. To all of you newbies or experienced Día planners: how can we work individually and collectively to deepen Día’s work between September and April 30th? Are we being as inclusive as we could be in building year-long partnerships with parents, schools, colleges, media, organizations, etc.? If we repeat our planning in a rote fashion, and limit that to an annual celebration, won’t we lose our initial excitement about Día’s potential? If we believe in Día’s importance as a daily commitment, día por día, day by day, how do we embrace and share progressive change?

April is the month of culminating Día book fiestas that celebrate family literacy and a year of linking all children to books, languages and cultures, but Día is not a one-day event.

An example of expanding Día comes from my friend Meryle Leonard at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Meryle and her team coined the idea of DÍA as Diversity in Action and now her collagues have instituted a Latino Task Force to increase services to the Latino families in their community. Yea to my NC friends! I'd appreciate receiving other examples of expanding Día locally or state-wide.

September 15, 2012

September E-newsletter

The September issue of the Pat Mora e-newsletter debuts a new format. Are you signed up to get it? If not, click on the sign-up image at the top left of this blog, or read the September issue online.

Image: 'Fall Fireworks'
Found on

September 11, 2012

Mora Award Judging

I'm grateful to the five dedicated REFORMA members who are currently busy reading the 2012 Estela and Raúl Mora Award  applications. Each application conveys the commitment of librarians, educators and community members willing to invest their resources and talents in spreading bookjoy, alegría en los libros. It's exciting to report that this year, we have 16 applications from 9 states: AZ,CA, CO, FL, IL, NM, NY, TX, WA. We'll announce the winner in October. I applaud and am deeply grateful to each institution that hosted a Día celebration and that took the time to submit an application. I am also, of course, grateful to the judges.

September 3, 2012

The Moon and a Poem

Love the moon? I do, especially on full-moon nights. I tend to feel a bit stunned by the beauty of that celestial radiance. Wanted to share this picture of the moon rising above the Santa Fe hills recently. Here's a companion poem from my book BORDERS(1986). Though hard, the moon seems such a benevolent body of light.



It only happened once
spinning in the desert white
with moonlight, glancing down,
rabbits, snakes, small burrowing owls
in a circle round her bare feet,
stretching too toward the moon,
snakes charmed by silent music.

Closing her eyes, feeling the pull
as they spun round
her knee, breasts, touching
her long hair, circling higher
in a funnel through which she rose
pushing upward, upward, grazing stars
with her fingertips and toes
her body light
finally curling on the moon
which circled round her
while she slept, slipped her
softly on the desert floor at dawn.

                              by Pat Mora ©