How a Santa Ana Writer Got to the Most Prestigious Chicano Writer's Workshop in U.S.

Sarah Rafael García is a writer, community educator and traveler. Since publishing Las Niñas, she founded Barrio Writers and obtained a M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Most recently, García is a 2016 Macondista and was awarded for Santana's Fairy Tales, which 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 in Santa Ana.

In this essay, she talks about the road taken to one of the most prestigious Chicano writer's workshops in the U.S., and how alumnae are coming to SanTana. Enjoy!

As I waited to board yet another flight from SanTana to Tejas (fourth one since January), I found myself contemplating my motive to attend the Macondo Writers' Workshop hosted in San Antonio. Named after the town in Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and founded by legendary author Sandra Cisneros at her kitchen table in 1995, it focuses on bringing together a community of poets, novelists, journalists, performance artists, and creative writers of all genres whose work is socially engaged. It’s one of the most prestigious invites in Chicano literature—and I had a chance to go.

It was mid-July, I had just moved back to my childhood town four months prior and was a little over a year out of the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program at Texas State University in San Marcos. I cringed at the ideas of leaving SanTana again and being criticized during a writing workshop, since both environments equally remind me of happiness and despair in my life. I had contemplated applying to Macondo a few years prior but I didn’t. I was intimidated then because I didn’t have a M.F.A. degree (turns out the M.F.A. thing doesn’t matter) but also because it was founded by la chingona Cisneros. How can this Chicana from SanTana even compare herself to such a writer?

But now, I was just a few hours away from landing in Tejas to join a new cohort of 27 Macondistas from across the nation and several seasoned members from the last 21 years.

Cisneros gifted the workshop in 2012 to the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, which now includes a workshop for local high school students. Most recently, 2016 Poet Laureate of Texas and San Antonio native, Laurie Ann Guerrero was brought on board to lead Macondo into its next phase. It provides master’s level workshop, meaning that participants are expected to be committed and well-seasoned writers capable of reviewing each other’s work with compassionate rigor and vision while also building community. The program seeks to cultivate and support a community of literary activists on and off the page. Once a writer has been accepted into Macondo they become Macondistas and are welcome to return annually to the workshops.

I mustered enough confidence to apply for 2016 because I had the privilege to meet Guerrero during my last year in my M.F.A program. Unfortunately, like many other students of color, I didn’t have a positive M.F.A. experience. During my last year in the M.F.A. in 2014, I organized for Guerrero to read on campus alongside community-based writers Carmen Tafolla and Tim Z. Hernandez. It was then I recognized the importance to be among more writers like them—away from those who judge my writing like they judge my culture. After graduating, I found an alternative writers’ community outside of the whitewashed Ivory Towers.

So when I saw renowned author Alex Espinoza (and now Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Arts at Cal State LA) as the fiction workshop leader at Macondo for 2016 I was convinced I needed to be there too. Why wouldn’t this Chicana from SanTana want to be mentored by such a maestro and become a Macondista too?

Before applying, I managed to do some research (something I should’ve done a long time ago); I found there are hundreds of Macondistas, many of them contemporary writers I admire—including Reyna Grande and Emmy Pérez. I actually presented alongside Grande a few years back when my first book was published in 2008— Grande is now an award-winning novelist and memoirist, originally from Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico (where 43 college students disappeared in 2014). She writes about her and her family’s life from Mexico to the U.S. and supports our community in various ways. Every year she makes a journey to Iguala and continues to promote literacy while breeding and releasing monarchs from her backyard. Like, she literally nurtures caterpillars, watches them cocoon, then sets them free—yes, another chingona at the frontlines!

When I relocated to Tejas in 2010, I was fortunate to hear about Emmy Pérez—not only do we share writing interests but she’s a SanTanera who has ties in Tejas too! Pérez is originally from Santa Ana and has lived on the Texas-Mexico border, from El Paso to the Rio Grande Valley, since 2000. Her poetry brings together personal, political, and global forces affecting border lives. Like many of us, she also reaffirms Anzaldúa’s notions of hope through resilience and conocimiento. Plus she graduated from Saddleback High School in 1989! Why did it take me so long to read this SanTanera?

Although I greeted the first day at Macondo with doubt and hesitation, by the end of the four days, all of it reminded me of home—and for me that means a lot, considering I haven’t had one since I first left SanTana in 1988. When I arrived to San Antonio, Macondistas greeted me with abrazos and admiration. I got to know familiar faces, added plenty of names to my reading list and even returned with two new pieces filled with inspiration to be more. I also cried after sharing childhood trauma, finally laughed about my M.F.A. experience, and became a part of a literary familia.

All of it helped me reconnect with my initial motivation: to write about mi cultura, mi gente and for our youth. Yes, I finally found my home, a magical town without borders, a socially engaged writers’ community—now my ambition is to bring this literary world to SanTana, so others can see themselves at Macondo too.

Macondistas en SanTana: Inspiration in Community with Reyna Grande & Emmy Pérez 7:30-8:30pm Thursday, September 8, 2016 Grand Central Art Center 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA

LibroMobile, a project by Red Salmon Arts led by Sarah Rafael García, presents a reading of two nationally recognized Macondistas: Emmy Pérez and Reyna Grande; the reading will be followed by a book signing.

Before the reading (6:30-7:30pm), a special community-based workshop with SanTana’s own Emmy Pérez. Email to reserve a spot. All ages over 16 are welcomed. For more information, visit the GCAC event information page.

This literary reading is supported & co-hosted by Barrio Writers and Grand Central Art Center. This event is also supported in part by Poets & Writers through grants it has received from The James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations.

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