Friday, December 03, 2010

Specimen: Melinda Palacio, Chicana Author

Melinda Palacio

On Tuesday, I was a guest speaker at Santa Barbara City College’s Chicano Studies 121. The
class is taught by Magdalena Torres and focuses on The Chicana and Other Latina Women in the United States. I didn’t know what to expect. The class was from 6pm to 9pm and the instructor simply said I didn’t have to speak for the entire three hours of the class. Given how attentive and well receiving the class was, I wish I had taken more time.

The warmth and enthusiasm of Magda’s course was remarkable. The atmosphere was festive. I felt as if I were walking into a party held for me. Given that I spoke on the last day of class, I was also impressed by the attendance. In fact, to say I was impressed by the students is an understatement.

Santa Barbara City College is located on a mesa,

overlooking the ocean and the channel islands, one of the most beautiful spots on earth. They don’t call Santa Barbara paradise for nothing.

I’ve taken several courses at this gorgeous campus. I hope many of the students are tuning in because I forgot to mention that I was once sitting in their spot, being the attentive student. Only, because of my visual deficit, always sat front and center, teacher’s pet jokes aside. However, on this night, I wanted to impress the students by flaunting my educational background, a B.A. from UC Berkeley and an M.A. from UC Santa Cruz in Comparative Literature.

When I first moved to Santa Barbara nine years ago, I took advantage of the college’s many personal enrichment courses, including guitar, dance, and computer programming courses. I learned web design and brushed up on technical writing skills. In case no one has told you the big secret, writing doesn’t pay in real US minted cash. Ask some of my fellow blogueros, such as Daniel Olivas, who are lawyers by day. The “riches” come when reading to students and visiting classes such as Chicano Studies 121.

More college courses should create the sense of family that Magda Torres’s class exudes. I immediately felt at home. After my presentation, the instructor made all of her students say one thing they took away from my reading. Listening to what each student gleaned from my work was a highlight that I’ll think about whenever I sit down to write. In the past when I’ve spoken to a class, there might be a few questions. On Tuesday, every student, including the guest ESL instructor who came to hear me, spoke.

What surprised me was that a handful of students said that I was the first author they had ever heard. I am still digesting this sad information. Santa Barbara is filled with local authors, in fact several members of the Creative Writing Program at SBCC are well published. Three years ago, I remember hearing Victor Villasenor give the Leonardo Dorantes Memorial Lecture on campus and last week at UCSB Sandra Cisneros spoke; an author who doesn’t enjoy flying, but arrived safely in her pajamas (see last Friday’s article for more details on Sandra’s visit).

Outreach for students in American Ethnic Studies courses can certainly be improved, not withstanding a bad economy, hiring freezes, and teacher lay offs. This is a town too rich in resources to hear such statements from students. However, I am deeply honored to represent Chicana authors in my native homeland of Atzlan.

One student, José Segundo, told a story about mermaids appearing in a lake once a year. I keep thinking about that mesmerizing image and wish I had another week with these students to offer a writing workshop. Many students remembered their own stories as I read and were inspired to write them down some day. If you are one of those students, write it down today, please. Many enjoyed how I read my work and said they could hear the passion in my words and images. Luz Ocegueda also remarked on my passion and went as far as saying, “it seems as

if you’re making love with literature.” On that note, find some pen and paper and make love.

Looking ahead: The topic for next week will be my visit to Whittier Community Theatre where Paso de Oro will perform. This folklórico group, ranging in ages five to teens, has a special dancer who is the son of a famosa autora who will also be selling her most recent novel. Any guesses?


barry said...

So good that the world really knew how to throw Melinda a proper literary party. With her luxurious voice I could listen to her the full three hours no matter what the topic. She is a treasure in this treasure of a town where there are actually three
reputed non-artists (though none will confess).

Thank you, Melinda. Such smarts and energy!

Barry Spacks

Unknown said...

Ah, I am inspired to pick up my pen and make love with words.

Montserrat said...

Melinda, the students will remember your energy and your honesty. You gave a gift that will last forever.

Anonymous said...

You sure get around, Melinda. It's always an inspiration. The Maple Leaf (your New Orleans fan club) misses you. --l

Paul Fericano said...

Thanks, Melinda. I admire your passion for the written word and your support for all who use it to liberate themselves. Keep at it.