Hispanic Heritage Month, my memories and my grief


By Vivian Blevins

Contributing Columnist

I now live in an area where I infrequently see Hispanics/Chicanos/ Latinos/ Mexican Americans/Latinx and the list goes on and on. My life was different when I lived in Texas and California for 12 years and soon realized that terminology for this complex group is individual, distinctive, personal, and, at times, political. My experiences in my 12 years were critical to my growth as an American citizen. Said experiences were informed by more than college studies and are now based on the reality I experienced through my travels to Spanish-speaking countries, my work in college curricula with professors, and my friendships with so many Americans who define themselves among those celebrating their heritage this month.

A readers theatre production which I wrote entitled “Voces,” and with an updated version entitled “Mas Voces,” toured 13 cities from the West Coast to the East Coast in the nineties. Was my writing this production an example of cultural appropriation? No. I was merely the scribe, listening to the voices of my informants and cast members and formatting them as dramatic monologues in order to explore the particular challenges Chicanas and Latinas face in a society that often wants to restrict them and define them in ways that suit some members of the dominant majority. And I am proud of the title given me as Honorary Madrina by a state-wide California group of Hispanic women and also pleased that a majority of members of a board of trustees embraced my recommendation in Orange County, Calif., to name a new technology center at Santa Ana College in honor of Caesar Chavez in spite of opposition from very vocal and local Anglos.

Some of you might be able to imagine my continuing grief when the lives of more of our children on May 24, 2022, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, were snuffed out. One of my students in a creative writing class I teach at Edison State Community College, Bailey Wright, recently gave voice to some of the deceased children.

Wright received her Associate of Arts degree at Edison this past summer and will have completed her Bachelor of Arts degree from Franklin University in communication before she graduates from Eaton High School in May of 2024 (Please don’t think I’m mistaken with the dates. She began the Ohio College Credit Plus program as a ninth grader). Wright began writing fiction and nonfiction stories as a seven-year-old and writing books at age 8. I’m sharing some of her words with you.

The collection of poems, written in the style of Spoon River Anthology where residents of Spoon River speak from the dead, has a prelude in which the author asserts, “We often ignore the dreams that children hold/The dreams of being astronauts or ballet dancers/The dreams of living in a big city or by the beach.” She relates the story of Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares, age 9: “As I lie here solemnly/in the shady oak of this coffin/I wonder what they are saying about me/Do they speak of my First Communion? / Do they speak of the person I could have been?”

And there is Tess Maria Mata, also age 9, who was saving money for a trip to Disney World: “My jar full of money sitting in my room/ Waiting for me to come home, like always” and “Not even my athleticism could save me/As I could not escape from tragedy/ I hope that I am still remembered/So many years down the line/ For my brilliant spirit that soared/ And my contagious laugh.”

Makenna Lee Elrod, age 10, is given voice by Wright: “The time on my clock has run out/The nights of playing the sports/The sports that I loved ever so much/And the many 4-H meetings I attended/ Oh, how I loved those animals/What beautiful creatures they are/Maybe if I had more time on my clock/I could have discovered a career in that.”

Wright moves to a philosophical stance as Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, age 10, says from the grave, “There is something so remarkable about life/And something so endearing about growing up/ I spent my life dreaming about my future/And I always knew that I’d be a lawyer” and “I didn’t get to live the life I had dreamed.”

Maite Yuleana Rodriquez’s speaks as a ten-year-old to tell the reader, “I especially loved to learn about nature/The sound of the ocean echoes in my head/And I see dolphins all around me/ I wonder what I could have discovered.”

In her postlude, Bailey criticizes “A society that allows children to die in their schools/A building that should be their safe space/That is a society that is so entirely broken/A society that doesn’t take care of its own/Gun violence.”

In closing, Bailey Wright researched information on these children at the Texas Tribune website and from the obituaries at Rek Funerals to learn about these children whose lives were snatched from them and from their families. And the blame game continues as individuals are fired, or take early retirement, or lie about what happened that day. Do you have a sense of these children through Bailey’s words. I do, and I grieve.

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