More than 100 students, faculty and staff gathered at The University of Texas-Pan American on Friday, May 14 to celebrate the life of UTPA alumnus and Rio Grande Valley native Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, internationally recognized cultural theorist, creative writer and independent scholar.
Students and faculty hosted a preconference gathering at UTPA as part of the El Mundo Zurdo: An International Conference on the Life and Work of Gloria E. Anzaldua, an event hosted by The University of Texas at San Antonio in collaboration with UTPA and Trinity University in San Antonio.
"We're having this event to celebrate the life of one of the most important writers from the Rio Grande Valley," said Emmy Perez, UTPA assistant professor of English. "Gloria Anzaldúa was very honest in her writing about how difficult it was for her growing up here in the Valley as a young woman in the 1940s-60s in a time when students were punished for speaking Spanish in the public schools. She was also critical of sexism within the Mexican-American community and beyond, across cultures and historical periods. She also expressed how much she loved the Rio Grande Valley. A lot of her work is about transformation and acceptance. I think that Gloria gives people of all backgrounds the permission to speak the truth and sometimes those are very difficult truths that we need to write about to become a better community and treat each other better."
The event offered UTPA students the chance to network and talk about Anzaldúa's works and legacy with people from all over the world including Palestine, Mexico and New York.
Veronica "Lady Mariposa" Sandoval, poet and master's student in creative writing, said she was most moved by what Anzaldúa's work gave her back - her heritage.
"I had this concept of being a universal writer and I really tried to change my voice to be more contemporary and more American, and I always shunned myself away from Spanish language and mixing up the language in my writing," Sandoval said. "I read 'Borderlands' and read about the concept of language being living and something that doesn't die. Therefore there's no such thing as correct or incorrect Spanish because it's breathing, beating and changing and that's something that I've shunned away from because I believed that I didn't have a right to write Spanish or write the stories of my parents because I was too Americanized. She gave me the opportunity to believe that I was justified in wanting to write about that. She gave me back my mother and father."
Erika Garza-Johnson, a master's student in creative writing, grew up in Elsa and said she never really felt like she had her own writing voice until she read Anzaldua's work.
"I felt I could finally express myself in my writing. I do a lot of switching from English to Spanish in my poetry. I'm trying to keep things that I grew up with alive, like the way we speak here in the Valley" Garza-Johnson said. "I think this event is important because students need to know that what they have to say is important and that they shouldn't be discouraged."
Numerous students shared original artwork, poetry and writing inspired by Anzaldua throughout the event. Beatriz Guzmán Velásquez, a senior double majoring in art and English, said she enjoyed being able to share her art with others.
"I think artwork puts her words into a concrete image. I think these images are important to students because they define our border area," Velásquez said.
The event was hosted to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Anzaldua's death. Anzaldua was born in Raymondville and graduated from then Pan American University in 1969 with a bachelor's in English and also earned a master's degree in English and education from The University of Texas at Austin. She led a successful career as a writer, theorist, activist and teacher. She received many honors and awards during her lifetime including being selected by the Utne Reader for inclusion in their Loose Cannon, a list of 150 works that broaden, deepen, or define the experience of being alive for her book "Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza" in 1987. She was awarded a Ph.D. in literature posthumously by the University of California Santa Cruz. Event participants also visited her gravesite in Hargill, Texas where they read her poetry and witnessed a ritual dance in honor of Anzaldua.
"It's been an honor to go to her grave and see the humble place she came from, yet it's rich in her work," Garza-Johnson said.
The event at UTPA was sponsored by UTPA's Mexican-American Studies Program, the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, the Department of Modern Languages and Literature, and South Texas College's program in Mexican-American Studies.
For more information about UTPA's College of Arts and Humanities, call 956/381-2175.