This Sunday, acclaimed author and playwright Denise Chavez hosted the Las Cruces Writers Resist event at her Casa Camino Real Book Store & Art Gallery. Several members of the Puerto staff were in attendance, not only to stay involved in the literary happenings of New Mexico, but to immerse ourselves in the world of writing and resistance. As writers ourselves, we recognize the importance of our craft in this period of transition/crisis/change. Here’s what we came away with.
The writers present represented the incredible diversity of voices present in our borderlands region. We had writers from Ciudad Juarez, Las Cruces locals, and a number of university students who have transplanted themselves here from as far across the country. In wonderful Hispanic hosting fashion, Chavez had coffee and food circling the group non-stop (see tres leches cake above) while the discussion of resistance filled the room. We talked about what it means to be afraid, what it means to use that fear as an impulse to fight back, to write back. One of the few truths that we arrived at was: we cannot let fear paralyze us into non-action. From both sides of the border, we agreed that continuing to harness our craft and sharpen our voices is the most effective thing we have in this moment.
An offer to read was spread around the circle and although not everyone read, several pieces were shared. Chavez shared a powerful story of a young woman who begins to have a period while being detained by border patrol, and begging for help, is alienated by everyone around her, most poignantly a female border patrol officer. Even though the story was fictional, it did have its roots in some factual incidents, which Chavez shared with the group.
Another poem was read about the haunting encroachment of nature upon the deserted city of Dayton, Ohio. The piece embodied what it might feel like to lose connection to a place as it once was. We were forced to consider our own relationships to the places we each call home and the possibility that those places aren’t permanent. How we will respond when the things that define us begin to change? How do we respond as America changes?
Christine Eber, founder of Weaving for Justice was present and read two pieces of hers published in the Malpais Review. One of the more powerful images her poetry addressed was the role of the hoodie, and its function of warmth contrasted with its social purpose of concealment and mystery. Eber works closely with Mayan women in Chiapas, Mexico but her work inevitably reminded us of both Trayvon Martin and Claudia Rankine’s cover image for Citizen: An American Lyric. It was incredible to see that the values Eber carried with her from the highlands of Mexico were reflected in our own society. It was a reminder that we are all citizens of the planet Earth and we are never alone, even across borders. Whether we wear hoodies or woven Mayan blouses, we are all human and nothing can change that fact.
Author Miguel de la Cruz, who has spent time on both sides of the border, read a piece from his book Memorias de un Camaleon (Memoirs of a Chameleon) that dealt with the many faces each of us puts on in a given day. Who are we with our families, our friends, our coworkers? Who are we when we are alone? What kind of people will we be when we are faced with oppression, discrimination and hate?
The reading ended with a piece by Miklos Radnoti, a Hungarian poet murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The poem, “For A Copy Of Steep Road“, addresses the role of a writer in a world of violence. Writers, by the curse of their profession, are responsible for witnessing the destruction around them and sharing it with a world unable to see it. It’s a difficult burden, but one that writers most of all are prepped to do.
The Las Cruces meeting of Writers Resist was frightening, inspiring, terrifying and hopeful all at once. Denise Chavez was an amazing host, encouraging all in attendance to be afraid, to be angry and rise to the occasion. She offered all her available resources as support and the editors of Puerto del Sol are excited to begin working more closely with her. Not only is she a nationally respected writer, but she is a pillar of our community and we are so grateful to have been in attendance. We made connections with other writers and are excited to begin working towards the successful curation of Confronteras, our series for voices from the borderlands. We can’t make any official announcement about it, but it’s in the works. Keep an eye out and check back in.
For anyone out there wondering how they can respond to the state of our country and our culture, we encourage you, first and foremost, to keep writing. Then, get out into your communities. Find readings, open mics, book releases, and other local events. Network, partner-up and collaborate. We are so proud to have been part of a nationwide movement in the form of Writers Resist, but we recognize that it all starts locally.
We’d like to pass on some information shared with us by members of the Las Cruces Coalition for Reproductive Justice: On Saturday January 21st at the Southwest Environmental Center in downtown Las Cruces, there will be a Unified Community Action March beginning at 9 am and coinciding with the women’s march in Washington DC. As one attendee said, we must be wary of anyone who operates under the idea that “if you can’t control your uterus, you can’t control anything.”
And two last words before we depart.