This past spring, I received an email from Lee Byrd, Cinco Puntos Press, asking if I would be interested in a nomination to attend Aspen Institute’s Summer Words Writing Conference and Literary Festival.
I immediately wrote back and said, “Yes.” I didn’t know the details, but I’ve learned to embrace writing opportunities because it wasn’t that long ago, I wasn’t confident enough to say I was a writer.
The bottom of my bookshelf is filled with dog eared journals and worn notebooks that date back to elementary school. Periodically, I look through them. Sometimes, I cringe when I see the scribbles. Other times, I laugh at a long-forgotten memory that comes flooding back like a wave of heat on a hot El Paso day. I have always written. I see this in the curls of my young handwriting and later in the sharp angles of my adult scrawl. These pages are where I shared my dreams of being a writer.
These hopes were a secret because I never thought it’d be possible. Still, stories, where I tried to mimic my favorite authors’ writing style came out of me, but they weren’t really my stories. I looked at the books I checked out from the library and saw names like Poe and Rice but never saw Ramírez’s on the covers. How could a girl like me, from EP, be a real writer?
Even after writing several short stories, I hesitated to let anyone read my work. Like so many, I’d moved away in search of big city life. But, after a decade of living in the Dallas Metroplex, I made the leap and came home to work on a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at UTEP.
El Paso looked so different. I didn’t recognize parts. Slowly, I became reacquainted and discovered just how much I had missed home. I had to move away to appreciate its beauty. The Borderplex often gets taken for granted and mislabeled, I was guilty of it, too, but the truth is, it’s a marvelous mix of Spanish and English, warmth, and cultura.
I learned I didn’t have to emulate other writers. I stepped into the shoes I’d dreamt of as a child. I could be a writer, share my stories, culture, and ideas with others without trying to sound like anyone else. I wrote about my grandma, Ita, and readers were fascinated with the stories I’d often overlooked as boring.
In El Paso, encontré mi voz.
Now, one “Yes!” morphed into being the first Woody and Gayle Hunt Aspen Institute Fellow. Even after all these years, I was nervous the section of my memoir, ¡Ándale, Prieta!, sprinkled with Spanglish, wouldn’t connect with readers at the conference. I was that little girl again, uncertain and unsure.
But, attending Aspen Summer Words, and working with Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory Pardlo, was incredibly gratifying. The comments I received were both humbling and fulfilling. As the only Latina and only El Pasoan in the group, my story managed to show a little piece of La Frontera they might not have seen otherwise.
“Nothing ever happens in El Paso” has turned into things have and are happening here, and writers should apply for this fellowship. Our stories and voices need to be in these spaces. Gente from the Borderplex, ¡Ándale!
Author: Yasmín Ramírez
Professor Ramírez teaches Creative Writing and Chicanx Literature as an associate professor of English at El Paso Community College and has published several short stories and articles spotlighting Latinx perspectives and contributions. She holds an MFA in creative writing from University of Texas at El Paso and is working on a memoir, ¡Ándale, Prieta!, scheduled to be released by Cinco Puntos Press next year.
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