March 10, 2012

Healing Circle

After the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference where I facilitated a session on the Latino Writers Collective's Migrant Youth Writers Workshop, I traveled to Orlando Florida to visit two of my three sisters.

I attended a meditation session at my sister Mylinda's yoga studio, Altamonte Springs Yoga. In the session, we visualized our energy flow and dismantled energy blocks. As I focused on the energy flow in my arms, I kept thinking of the work we used to do in the fields as migrant farmworkers.

You see, arms and legs are tools. They work until they ache. They blister. They burn. They lift. They push. They sweat. They scar.

Though I've been exploring my past as a farmworker, I thought only my mind kept those memories. I have a clearer understanding of how my past still affects my physical being.

The next day I worked with my sister, Deb, on her Latina Leadership Conference. We took a break to deliver some food to a local food bank. We didn't really know where we were going. She remembered the last time my father visited that he mentioned a local community center. So, off we drove hoping to find it and to ask if they needed food donations.

Well, we couldn't find it. Maybe it was one of those situations where dad mistook a community center for a donut shop. Then a building with the word "farmworker" on it caught my sister's attention. We pulled into the Catholic Diocese's Office for Farmworker Ministry.

The HOPE CommUnity Center
formerly the Office for Farmworker Ministry
Like many Gay Latinos, I have a respect/disrespect relationship with the church. So, I wasn't sure about the "ministry" aspect of this organization. However the farmworker focus meant I could (temporarily) suspend my objections to the church in order to make sure food got to the people who needed it.

I looked at the reception desk with stacks of fliers spread across or taped to the front advertising basic computer skills classes, youth groups, tax help, local medical clinics and I knew this was the right place.

We unloaded my sister's SUV full of food that helped supply the emergency food pantry.

It felt good.

My arms that once worked in the fields now delivered food to those who still do. My hands that held tools -- hell, they were tools -- now write about that life.

We talked to the director to ask how we could establish a relationship with the organization. We're going to sit down with her next week to discuss it.

I know what I'd like to do -- a writer's workshop for the migrant youth.

March 4, 2012

AWP12 Day 4: Migrant Poet

I grabbed my suitcase and started packing for tomorrow's flight out of Chicago. I thought about how long four days seemed when I first arrived and how this final day seemed to pass so quickly. 

Last night the Latino Writers Collective and Proyecto Latina sponsored an After-Hours Salon reading at Columbia College

I read two poems about my parents. The first, Madre de los Campos, is one of my favorites. It describes my experiences working as a migrant farmworker and child laborer. 

The second poem, Sangre de mi Padre, examines my father's work at a meat packing plant. That poem took on a new meaning for me because I'd just learned my father suffered a small stroke hours earlier. My sister said he seemed to be fine but the doctor wanted to keep him overnight to make sure there were no other complications.

Well, I guess everything turned out fine because today as I prepared for the session I was to facilitate, he texted me to ask how long to grill a steak. 

Yeah, just kind of process that for a moment ...

Miguel and Yolanda (Nieves) after the After Hours reading

That brings us to today and the reason I came to this year's Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference -- the Migrant Youth Writers Workshop. 

After the Migrant Youth Writers Workshop session

For those of you who know me, let me just reassure you that I did not cry. No, not this time.

For those of you who don't know me, it's always a struggle for me not to break when I talk about the work we do with migrant youth. As much as I try not to, I usually end up crying. 

I almost did break but I took a deep breath and tried not to let my emotions get ahead of my words. However another panelist did, and that touched me. It also moved the audience. So there were some tears after all, which now I accept as a good thing.

I never thought my life would come back to those days when I was a migrant farmworker. I worked so hard for so many years to banish that part of my life. Yet there I stood at a national writer's conference talking about it, telling writers how they can help -- asking them to help and they responded.

In a strange sort of way, grown up Miguel and little farmworker Miguel are working together helping each other, giving voice to one another, and trying to make a difference in the lives of other migrant youth. I can look back on my life at the time when I really needed help as a migrant kid and I can see that these young people are at that moment in their lives. They need help -- even if that help is just acknowledging their stories.

Miguel talks with a migrant youth/poet at the 2011 writers workshop.

March 3, 2012

AWP12 Day 3: AWP ≠ Staff Development

Yeah, I said it.
People who regularly attend conferences knows never to believe the description of a session that's listed in the program. I mean, that's why one should always select his or her top three picks for each set of concurrent sessions.

I kinda got pissed off today at the AWP conference. I wasn't pissed off at the presenters the did a good job (even though it wasn't the presentation promised in the conference program). 

I started to get upset about how that session, and other sessions I attended, became nothing more than staff development workshops for those in higher ed.

I get it. You teach and you want to improve your skills -- so do I. But, come on, half the crap brought up in these sessions should be addressed during your college's professional development days or, better yet, with HR. 

I've worked at a college for more than 10 years, so I don't wanna hear any of your "Oh it's so hard to get training with budget cuts." You're right. It is hard to get training -- especially for writers who don't have the luxury of earning a living in the field of writing. They paint houses. They work for non-profit organizations. They're administrative assistants. 

I know it's hard out there for an instructor. I see it everyday. But you know what? It's hard out there for all of us. AWP isn't an academic conference on writing. It's a writer's conference that includes includes academics and non-academics. Academics should have sessions focused on their particular area and those sessions should be labeled as such. What I don't like is when a general session on craft gets hijacked by academics who want to turn it into a session about pedagogy, assessment, and all those other higher ed initiatives that college presidents love.

Oh and keep your facacta stories about your department chair or your dean out of these sessions. Go to the bar in the hotel lobby and bitch about your boss like everyone else.

March 1, 2012

AWP12 Day 2: Cinderella

View of Michigan Avenue from penthouse of The Cliff Dwellers the location of the Ragdale Reception

Despite my reclusive nature, I attended several sessions at The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference today. Most were Latino-focused, which was great. The last two times I've attended AWP there were very few. I also attended a session on Queer Writers building loyal audiences. It was informative. I was glad to see the audience had some queers of color. Gender and ethnic diversity on the panelists was good, but let's face it, most Queer/LGBT discussions about community always come back to the Gay white male experience.

Oh another thing happened. But first let me admit my blind ignorance when it comes to writers. I don't read as much as I should (thank you college for draining the joy of reading out of me). Apparently today I sat by, stood next to, shared jokes with, and rolled my eyes at some noteworthy people.

There was this one dude standing in front of the men's restroom blocking the path. Three guys stood in a line waiting for him to move. I mean, they just stood there. By the way, I should tell you that I had drank a liter of SmartWater during the previous session so I really needed to get in that restroom. So, I said, "Hey, Cinderella, move it. You're blocking the door." He sort of jumped out of the way realizing there was a line.

Judging from the reaction of those three guys who were waiting in line, I might as well have told Santa to go #!&* himself.

Don't get me wrong, Cinderella didn't seem particularly snooty or appear like he was above it all. I don't even know if he was a famous writer. Maybe he was just a guy who needed a place to stand in a crowded hallway and unfortunately, it was in front of the restroom. What makes it weird for me is that there were three guys, I'm guessing they were students, who were practically willing to pee their pants rather than ask Cinderella to move.

Why did I call him Cinderella? I don't know. It's the first thing that came to mind.

Anyway, I also attended two receptions, was asked to submit work to a literary journal, and was offered the opportunity to read at an off-site event tomorrow. I had to turn it down because I'm reading with the Latino Writers Collective and Proyecto Latina at an After Hours Salon that happens the at the same time. bummer.

AWP12 Day 1: Pre-game

My presenter bio in the AWP conference program, pretty sweet!
I don't care how sophisticated and above it all you are, when you see your name in print you can't help but go all Steve Martin in The Jerk -- THE NEW PHONE BOOK'S HERE!!! THE NEW PHONE BOOK'S HERE!!

I didn't do much today other than register for the conference and walk to CVS through what I assume is Chicago's equivalent of a sandstorm. I did what I usually do on conference arrival day (of whatever conference I happen to be attending): I trek over to the CVS, Walgreens or whatever the nearest thing is called, and buy provisions:

  • 1 gallon of water - I ain't paying $7 for a bottle of water in my hotel room
  • Diet Cherry 7up - I gotta have diet something and they don't make diet M&Ms
  • M&Ms - a small bag of peanut M&Ms, one for each day I'm at the conference.
  • Chips - because you have to have a little crunch, right?
  • Advil Liquid Gels (or the off brand equivalent) because schlepping around that luggage and an overstuffed conference bag makes me feel as old as I am.
  • A postcard - I send myself a postcard every time I travel. It's something I started a long time ago. I write a fresh memory on it during my travel. It's nice to get home and see a postcard among all those bills.
On my way back to the hotel I usually stop by a Subway or some inexpensive eating place to get a quick and easy dinner. After a long day of travel where I'm not just around people but I'm pushed up against them in airplane seats, shuttle bus seats, waiting in lines, TSA screenings, baggage claim, and conference registration lines, I need to hide in my room to spend what will probably be my only evening where I can enjoy my own space and silence.

I relax and spend the evening getting used to the weird channel arrangement on the hotel TV. WHAT?! You can have 6 ESPN channels but don't carry Comedy Central?! Can I really survive the packed conference days without The Daily Show and Colbert Report? Thank God for you, internets. To its credit, this hotel offers the free WiFis.

Oh I forgot, if the CVS doesn't sell liquor, I find a place where I can get an inexpensive bottle of wine which I usually drink out of a coffee cup as I mark up the conference program trying to decide which sessions to attended the next day.

Just looking at this day of sessions tells me that tomorrow (actually today) will be a full day with a few after hours events I want to attend.