Thursday, January 25, 2007

Open letter to Luis Rodriguez and Pat Mora

Dear Luis y Pat ---

In many ways this letter has been a long time coming. I've sent small thank you notes, sung your praises, although I suspect I am one voice among many. You've both cast a long shadow in my life, but as I sit here writing, una sombra is not really an accurate description. Light, you have been light, incandescent in your own right, shining with the fire of your own words, and with the generosity you've shown to me and others time and time again. And because I'm a poet, and a romantic, I think I'll run with the metaphor.

You’ve both lit my way back home to myself, to who I am as a writer. For better or worse, gave me your support without hesitation, without expectation, and now I finally have some way to let others know how life changing it was. Luis, it's been over 15 years now, but I will never forget sitting in a coffee shop/bookstore on Milwaukee Avenue here in holding my breath as you read my first poetry chapbook. Amazing thing is that I'd been a few times to the Guild Complex while you were still based out of there. I didn't know you, or more importantly, you didn't know me. You met with me after I looked you up in the phone book, basically stalked you, leaving phone message after phone message with Trini. (God bless her for putting up with that!)

As I sat there, palms sweaty, heart rattling in my chest, you read through the manuscript, telling me what you liked and why, what phrases captured you, what could be sharpened. When it was all over, I told you that I wanted to be a writer. "You already are," was what you said. We never met again like that face to face, although I came to see you read several times after that. It didn't matter to me, in my mind and heart, I called you friend.

In the intervening years, we stayed in touch by e-mail, you leaving for Califas, writing more books, me continuing to establish myself. You never hesitated to produce letters of recommendation for me, for projects I hoped to fund, to offer generous quotes for chapbooks, even one recently for Sister Chicas. What is amazing is that a couple of weeks ago, before general public knew about losing the Tía Chucha space, I asked you to be a reference for me for a job I really wanted. What you wrote back was that things were a little hectic, but that you'd do what you could, not that the bookstore had to move, nor that you were incredibly stressed, busy, or hassled. Typical. And an object lesson for me.

And Doña Pat, you too, have been the victim of my stalking, responding with kindness to a stranger. Several years back, I stumbled across your masterful poem, 'Coatlicue's Rules,' was entranced by its layers, the way it blended domestic work with Aztec myth. I was struggling to find something to excerpt for a performance piece I was working on, this seemed perfect. Through a barrage of e-mails to your publisher, with sample of the work-in-progress-attached, no less, I finally secured a way to contact you.

Like the sinvergüenza I am about these things, I mailed you the whole kitchen sink. What I got in return was a lovely letter supporting what I was trying to do and rights to use the piece I wanted. When Sister Chicas was in its final stages, I wrote you again, asking you to read it, and if you could, give a book cover quote. My co-authors and I got one that moved us to tears, as well as e-mails from you that made our hearts sing about the characters, about the recipes in the book, about who which 'girl' you identified with the most. And one of my singular blessings has been your offer of friendship, inviting me to your home when I visited New Mexico.

Over lunch you provided me with sage advice about publishing, marketing, academia, as well notes when I got back to Chicago about taking care of myself as my marriage ended. That you made time for me, when you're still deep in your own work, in securing a place in the public's mind for Día de los Niños. Unbelievable. I could end this here, just saying I send my love and respect, but it seems necessary to say what I've learned.

That what we do is more than our body of work, however beautiful and deeply moving. That we stand on the shoulders of all those who've come before, that we give back because they still live in us. More importantly perhaps, that the seeds with which they live again are within us, that they can only burst forth and blossom in what we offer others. With your example before me, I can only hope to be of use.

Blogmeister's Note: La Bloga happily recognizes our expansion to six regular columnists occupying the five weekdays. Rudy Garcia has taken a sabbatical owing to requirements of his professional responsibilities as a public school educator. Lisa Alvarado now appears on Thursday, in Lisa's spot.

As La Bloga regularly reminds readers, we welcome guest columnists. Lisa joined us first as the subject of a book review, next as a guest columnist, and today as a regular La Bloga Bloguera. If you're interested in sharing an idea, a review, an experience, an event or happening, please click here and send your material along with a bio and a mugshot.

And comments! We welcome and encourage your comments! Please, share your responses to stuff you read here at La Bloga. We love the sight of comments in the morning, it reminds us of... community!

Hasta, les wachamos, and Read! Gente.


Francisco Aragón said...

Hi Lisa:

Thank you for such a heartfelt post. It underscores for me how important it is to express our gratitude to those mentors--both near and far--who have supported us in what is often a very solitary endeavor. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Pat, but she has been very supportive these last few years. Luis I had the immense pleasure of meeting and interacting with at Macondo.

I hope to meet you soon: please come to a PALABRA PURA reading: third Wednesday evening of the month at the CALIFORNIA CLIPPER in Chicago. As the date of the next one approaches, I'll send a reminder.


norma said...

What a beautiful, heartfelt letter! I also had a great mentor, but mine was in high school, through this program I was a part of called "Career Beginnings". I went back once to thank this person for everything they taught me but she was no longer working there.

Then just recently at a one year anniversay party for a local Chicano paper, called MAS Magazine I happened to see her and I got the courage to go up to her. I'm glad I did. She didn't remember me(it's been a long time) but she was grateful that she'd made a difference!