17 years of Nuestra Palabra
On Wednesday, April 22, 1998, Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say convened for the first time.
Our first literary showcase took place in the party hall of Chapultepec Restaurant, in Houston, Texas.
People told us that no one would come. People told that us that our community was not interested in books. People told us that there were not enough Tejan@, Latin@, or Chican@, writers for us to even hold more than one showcase.
It is a pleasure and an honor that 17 years later, we are still proving everyone wrong.
It has been thrilling to see our community come together to share our stories.
It has been powerful to watch us unite to defy all the odd and shatter records never before imagined.
We began as a monthly reading series featuring writers from our community, from our familias, presenting their writing, their stories, their poetry, in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.
Together, we have unleashed thousands of new voices who shared the stage with nationally published authors like Dagoberto Gilb, Sandra Cisneros, Carmen Tafolla, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Jimmy Santiago Baca, just to name a few national stars who went on to become our familia.
We have created more published Latino authors and more Latino MFA’s than even the University of Houston Creative Program.
Together we have created the number one rated Latino Literary radio show in the state: Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say ON THE AIR, broadcasting at 100,000 watts on 90.1 FM KPFT, Houston, Texas since 2002.
We organized the largest book fairs at the time in the state, with the Houston Latino Book and Family Festival attracting over 30,000 people to the George R. Brown Convention Center.
And then in 2012, when Arizona dared to ban our History and Culture, we called upon our literary familia to unite to organize the Librotraficante Caravan to smuggle the books banned by the state back to the students in Tucson, our familia de Arizona, who inspired us with their courage and tenacity.
We are honored represent our community that humbly started in the Party Hall of Chapultepec restaurant throughout the South West, throughout the nation, and throughout Texas as we spread Mexican American Studies so that every familia can be inspired by our culture and history.
We thank all of you for your support as we enter our 18th year of service to our community.
We truly appreciate you lending your time, energy, and genius to Nuestra Palabra.
And we promise to keep working hard to spread Our Word to every corner of the State, the South West, and the Nation.
Happy 17th Birthday, to our entire Nuestra Palabra Familia
Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante,
Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say
The Border Convo Tour Comes To Houston!
Chill out with legendary cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, before his cartoon BORDERTOWN is released on Fox.
You can also support Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
East End Studio Gallery
708c Telephone Rd
Houston, TX 77023
$25 Donation: Meet and greet with light appetizers & a round of spirits.
"Worth a Million in prizes: The not so Secret Adventures of a Cinematic Mind Who Ran Away with the Latino Literary Renaissance" by Stephanie Saint Sanchez
Int. Somewhere in Texas. Evening 3am, the witching hour.
Stephanie Saint Sanchez, a visually stunning bespeckled sample of womanhood cracks her knuckles as she prepare to dive into the re-telling of her tale for publication.
I have always been a movie person. I came from family that went to see all kinds of movies, and, if it was rated R, they might throw a quick hand over my eye for sexy stuff, but everything else was fair game. I got a video camera when I was 12 or 13 and made all kinds of goofy junk that I would kill to find again. Nowadays I imagine a young person might have the focus and good sense to find something they have an aptitude or desire to achieve and with a few google searches have all the tools they need to accomplish what they want, but back in the day no one came and knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to learn how to be a filmmaker. I don’t even think the guidance counselor had a folder for that. So I decided that perhaps being a theater major would be o.k .
I would become a theater teacher and train then cultivate the best actors to make movies in the summertime. This is where Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say comes in. Freshman year was a blur, so I had come back home to get re-focused … either that or lose 30 pounds and join the Army and pray for Private Benjamin Shenanigans.
Lucky for me my Ma saw an article in the paper about NP, and she said I should go and check it out. This was when NP had its headquarters at TBH, and they had the monthly showcases. I wish I could remember who performed that night but the general impression I got was “here is something exciting and different, and, maybe it would encourage me to improve my Spanish.”
I’m not Sure if I meet Tony Diaz that night or if he made a announcement after the showcase about when the next volunteer meeting would be. Either way I was there the very next week, and I remember Icess Fernandez introducing herself as the resident big mouth and I new right then we were going to hit it off.
Always Radames, Russell, Alvaro, Armando, Elisa, Manuel Nava Leal, Lashabriel Keys, Alice, Linda Gomez and Liz. It was a great time of experimentation by everyone. I think the artists that were all there we given this great freedom. I think that’s what I appreciate the most now. I mean it wasn’t Showtime at the Apollo, but it was a chance for many of us to challenge ourselves and try new things, so there was poetry, spoken word, rap, sketches, music, and somehow we pulled it off every single month.
Some of the performances that blew my mind where Sara Cortez, now-Houston poet laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda, and Tonantzin.
And of course the after-parties were legendary. You can imagine all the little mini-dramas and love affairs and just enough friendly competition to fan the fires of creativity.
This was two seconds before blogging and 20 before social media, so live performance was a huge deal. People paid attention instead of throwing up their crappy phone cameras.
We had an actual video crew headed by the great Carlos Calbillo documenting many of these shows. Lupe Mendez soon showed up and took over stage manager duties while I joined up with the video crew. We were a wild bunch. John Plueker was dabbling in documentary, and Carlos’ son Miguel Calbillo and his buddy Steve Finton and I ran a killer three camera set-up at the best Butthole Surfers concert EVER! And Alice aka Mela Carmela was down for anything! Carlos was one hell of a mentor and it wasn’t long till I premiered my first short
Mexican Suitcase, a satirical parody commercial about stereotypes at an NP showcase.
At the next NP meeting Tony mentioned that he had received a letter from the audience member, and it read something like “Mexican Suitcase has set the Chicano Rights movement back 20 years.” I don’t know if I was afraid that Tony was going to kick me out or something, but I knew it was just the tip of the iceburg to what I could do now that I had the tools, the community, and the attention.
It’s because of Nuestra Palabra that I was able to not just find my voice but discover the impact of a chorus of our Latino voices, and four Film Festivals, 30 short films,
7 multi-media installations and One feature film in pre-production. I never lost 30 pounds or joined the Army.
The Cinematic adventures continue at www.lachicanalaundrypictures.com
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.
‘member? YOU ‘member!
The year was 1999. Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say! (NP) for me was about the monthly showcases, being on the video crew, keeping and logging the archives . . . But I’m getting ahead of the story.
A colleague at work said I had to go check out the performances at Talento Bilingue de Houston. "What was it?" I asked. "Writers," she said, "Take your daughter."
I couldn’t figure out why she was so excited about a bunch of writers sitting around reading their stuff. But she persuaded me to go, and, yes, I took my eldest, Tonantzin, a young writer brimming with creativity.
That night changed us, changed the whole family. It was living writing! Alive! With lights! Cameras! Action! And ALL KINDS of writers, published professionals on book tours, middle school kids, elders.
Ali & Daniel brought their classmates from the Vanguard High School (at that time, located at Jones) to NP monthly showcases. Daniel, then I, got involved with working backstage. (I liked operating the pulleys to open & close the curtains.) And Tonzi performed.
And the people we met! Raul Salinas! Tish Hinojosa! Luis Alfaro! Dagoberto Gilb! And the charismatic Tony Diaz-Tony, who invented the whole thing. He’d inspire us with concepts: The Latino Literary Renaissance, more presence of our culture on television, in movies, and not just as the bad guys, the drug runners, the nannies & gardeners, but as ALL of who we are: sure, the dedicated custodians, and the steady-footed construction workers walking high-rise rascacielos I-beams but the singer/songwriters, the chefs, the artists, the scientists, too.
Tonzi & I made lasting friendships with some: indy film maker Stephanie Saint Sanchez; executive director of Southwest Alternate Media Project (aka SWAMP), Mary Lampe; visual artist/poet Stalina Villarreal; poet / book publisher Abel Salas, to name some real keepers.
And for better or worse, others such as the mad genius, Carlos Calbillo, was part of our lives for years and years, teaching video techniques, lighting, film theory, composition, logging, editing, inventive storytelling,Texas history, hyperbole, cussing, grandstanding, setting up for a shoot, site visits, never telling the same story the same way twice, and magic non-realism, to name some of his skills --- as I see them --- with which he delighted in blighting and enlightening others. O. And about what it means to be a man, a real man, but more so. And about TRUTH: that it’s a hard thing to come by.
Being part of Nuestra Palabra’s volunteer crew in Houston from 1999 until about 2003 was a stellar time in my life. From running curtain to running camera, logging the archives, to producing with Carlos Calbillo the Nuestra Palabra public access television program, Executive Producer/Tony Diaz. It was a wonderful bumpy ride.
I was recently deputized by Tony Diaz to carry on the mission in my new life is San Antonio. I was present at Southwest Workers Union (SWU) when the Librotraficantes came through with The Underground Library on their way to Tucson, Arizona, fighting the good fight so that our culture will thrive.
The forces of light --- that’s us, that’s Nuestra Palabra, that’s the librotraficantes, and that’s who we Nuestra Librotraficantes de Palabra are going to BECOME: the profesores inspiring others of us, the doctoras giving knowledge about food/nutrition/health, the curanderos limpiandonos, the stand-up comedians healing us, the visionary television and film writers --- writers of all sexes & orientation --- telling true truths & truer lies about what it means to live with heart, our feet rooted in nuestra tierra and our brilliant brains dando luz to one another throughout The Universe / Multiverse.
And, doing so, living the dream, having a blast!
August 12, 2014