"LO QUE COSECHA LA CULTURA: A Narrative Herstory" By Zelene Pineda Suchiltby Tony Diaz on 08/19/14
COSECHA LA CULTURA: A Narrative Herstory
By Zelene Pineda Suchilt
I was first introduced to Nuestra Palabra when I was in
middle school. I must have been 12 years old or younger. I know that it was
before I got my period but after the twin towers crashed, 2001 Lanier Middle
School seems like a good place to start.
I had this great English teacher in 7th
grade named Mr. Martinez (teachers’ first names are rarely disclosed). One day he
announced that there was a Latino Boys Writing Club, and that they were looking
for boys to join it. This announcement was echoed by other teachers who taught
cluster "A" classes. Cluster A was a non-vanguard class of kids. We were predominantly
Hispanic, Black and some White kids who lived in what was then considered questionable
neighborhoods-Montrose, Dunlavy and “Midtown” near Allen Parkway where there
were some housing projects and was also home of the “crack alley.
The odds were
against us. Gang culture, sex, pregnancy and drugs etc… the things one should
really wait till college to try out, were more accessible to us than anything
In Fourth grade I discovered second wave feminism when someone threw out their Time magazine with Gloria Steinman on the cover and around the same time I found a book called “Mother Wit: A feminist guide to psychic development” at a garage sale. So when I heard my teachers announce the club, I was like “what about the girls?”
Ms. Di Labio and Ms. Thibodaux (first names withheld) went ahead and got in touch with Nuestra Palabra to establish the Latina Girls Writing Club. It wasn’t just Latina girls coming to the meetings, it was also other girls of color. Elisa Garza encouraged us to write about our families, our neighborhoods, our bodies, people, places and things that were developing. Reading the work of other writers of color, particularly Latina and Black authors, opened me up to the possibilities of what literature could do. It was nothing short of liberating.
On October 21, 2002 I was invited by Nuestra Palabra to read one of my poems at the Alley Theater. I would be the opening act for Ms. Cisneros before she read excerpts of her new novel “Caramelo”. I was very excited, elated, beyond proud and full of myself. Being a performer I got to hang out in the green room and met Sandra. She let me follow her around for a little bit, I tried to impress her by letting her know I was a feminist and knew of Steinman, but this did not impress her, and she suggested I look up Feminists of color. I don’t remember the names, but I like to think Anzaldua and Lorde were among the mentioned. She autographed my journal and gave me her agent’s business card which I later taped on the same journal that I would later lose on the bus.
I shared the stage with her twice after that at Rice University for the 25 anniversary of “House on Mango Street” on April 1st, 2009 and again at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio on March 13th, 2012 during the Librotraficante Caravan.
I organized my own writing club at Lamar High School in 2004 called Tinta Roja. We wanted to go to poetry readings and we soon discovered that the best ones were at bars. In May 2005 I met Karla Aguilar at a Helio’s open mic. She mentioned NP was looking for a female poet to read at a literary event at Meca, where she worked at the time, for the author Luis Rodriguez. I read a poem called “Café con Leche” that got the attention of fellow poet and artist Joe B who was in attendance. We soon became partners in literary crime and launched the “Word Around Town Poetry Tour” June 2006. We teamed up with Stephen Gros, who was deeply involved with “The Panhandler Poetry Quarterly”, to launch the first ever multi genre spoken word local tour de force that highlighted Houston’s poetry scene, the venues that celebrated them and the music and art that inspired them. I was adamant that there needed to be a gender balance in the line-up as well as the diversity of form and venues. It was key to have that foundation for the tour to be meaningful. Nuestra Palabra was our first sponsor and has remained a pillar.
In 2012 NP took a turn for the revolutionary by launching the Librotraficante movement against racist legislation that banned books by Latin@ authors, including Cisneros, Dagoberto Gilb, Rudy Anaya, Lorna Dee Cervantes and Junot Diaz. NP did it again by including me in the Caravan and showing all of us how social justice, imagination and action are the greatest ingredients for change and liberation.