Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weaving Words at the Eastside Café

Olga García Echeverría
Spring seems to have fully arrived in blooming yellows and a sensual breeze that’s flowing through the neighborhood. There’s magic in the air. Wind chimes sing, papel picado flutters, ramas sway like the hands of a slow water dance.

Or maybe I’m just really happy because it’s Saturday afternoon and a circle of women have gathered once more at the Eastside Café in El Sereno. For the past four Saturdays, we—thirsty poetas and storytellers in the hood--have congregated here to push PAUSE on our hectic lives and delve into our creative words. With workshops led by Alejandra Sanchez, Iris de Anda, and myself, our writing class has weaved words about our dreams, our bodies, and our visions.

Today, the conduit of poetry is agua. Alejandra has created an altar that tantalizes the senses. We pour water into clear glass jars, wine glasses, multi-sized bowls, cups, and vases. We dip almonds into honey. We dab powdered cinnamon on ours tongue. We inhale freshly-cut, orange citrus flowers and rub dry lavender on our palms. We devour the only dark-chocolate bar on the table.

Throughout our Saturday sessions, we’ve brought our journals, our notebooks from the .99 cents store, our loose blank pages and, of course, we’ve brought ink, the blood of our pens. We’re all shades of brown here at the Eastside Café and our bilingual tongues are neither foreign nor exotic. We write in English, en Español, in Eastside broken-spoken-pocha-speak, in whatever language that cometh. Our tongues are fluid like water. Our hearts are open. We’ve come to draw body maps of ourselves, to call back our spirits into wholeness, to invoke Oshun, to write about abuelas y abuelos, the child within, chayotes dangling like hearts from vines, and the mighty power of the papaya.

Workshop Leaders: Iris de Anda, Alejandra Sanchez and Olga Garcia
Spearheaded by poet and artevista, Alejandra Sanchez, Weaving Words, Creating Worlds is a workshop series that celebrates the healing and empowering elements of writing. Alejandra, currently an MFA student in the Creative Writing Program at Antioch University, has long been envisioning Weaving Words. More than a year ago, she approached me with her idea of creating a workshop series that made connections between healing ourselves and healing the earth. I happily agreed to help. At the time, I was obsessed with making poetry chapbooks out of recycled cardboard. tatiana de la tierra (former blogera and palabrista) and I had been inspired by Los Cartoneros of Latin America in 2010 and for well over a year, cardboard was all the rave; it ruled our creative lives. To read a previous blog on cardboard books, visit:

Cardboard is highly contagious. When Alejandra first saw our cardboard poetry creations, she handled them in awe. It was love at first sight. Poetry on recycled cardboard is the perfect metaphor for healing ourselves and healing our world, and so los chapbooks de carton naturally got integrated into the workshops.

Part of Mujeres de Maiz’ 16th Annual International Women’s Month Celebration, Weaving Words will culminate in a public poetry reading, the creation of cardboard books by participants, and a panel discussion on writing and publishing. Dates and times for specific events are listed below.

Weaving Words, Creating Worlds
Poetry Reading, Part of MDM's Retomemos la Noche: Take Back the Night
Sunday April 7th 2013
3:00 PM at Mariachi Plaza (corner of Boyle and First Street in Boyle Heights)

Weaving Words, Creating Worlds
Women Writers at Work Panel Discussion
with Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Jenny Factor, Felicia ‘Fe’ Montes, and Olga Garcia
Saturday, April 6th
1:00 PM at Eastside Café (5469 Huntington Drive NorthLA 90032)

To view more of Mujeres de Maiz' current programing, visit:

To read a past blog on Mujeres de Maiz' community work and herstory, visit

Here are some reflections from a few of the writing workshop word weavers:

Samira Saba

I feel that I and all the women here have been honored and respected in these writing circles. Every time I came here I set the intention to really get the most out of it. Because of this, a lot of feelings came up for me in the writing exercises that had previously been suppressed. These women writing circles are rare, yet they are so necessary. Women’s words in general are suppressed, and yet they hold a lot of healing. Our words are so necessary and because of this I’m super grateful for these workshops. I have a lot of pieces I want to keep working on and I’m happy for the push to keep creating.

Jessica Valenzuela

This was my first time participating in a writing workshop. I didn’t know what to expect. I came into it just a little bit fearful, a little bit hesitant. But I found that it was a very comfortable space to explore what I wanted to write. The guidance in the workshops with the prompts cracked open a door for me so that I could take off. It was a very safe and very comfortable space for me and I think that’s what made it an enjoyable experience. The new pieces I’ve written here are just babies. They’re so fragile. But I’m accepting them for what they are right now. Putting them into a chapbook will make this entire experience real for me, a reminder that the work I did here really exists. 

Iris de Anda, Workshop Leader and member of Eastside Cafe Collective

I was very humbled to be asked to be one of the workshop leaders by Alejandra Sanchez. It was such a great learning experience for me. I chose dreaming as the focus of my writing workshop because it’s a big part of my life and it’s a big part in the healing that I do for myself and in the work I do with others. I thought it also flowed well with other the workshop topics being covered, such as The Body and Water.

About the Eastside Café: It's an autonomous space in El Sereno. It has been around for 10 years. Our goal is to nurture art, music, culture, and education in the community of El Sereno. The idea of the Café is to be able to do this grassroots, with each other. We don’t get grants from government agencies or other sources. We’re made up of other collectives and all the participating collectives make a monthly donation for rent and other expenses. Sometimes it's challenging to make ends meet, but our autonomy is worth it. We've been going strong for a decade now and that says a lot. We offer Son Jarocho classes, ESL, yoga classes, art for kids on Saturday. Basically any idea someone might have in the community can be brought to our general meetings on Sundays and proposed. Once that idea has been presented, we’ll help make it happen, just like we did these writing workshops.

Felicia 'Fe' Montes, Mujeres de Maiz Core Organizing Committee

I appreciated the workshop today. I haven’t participated in a writing workshop in a long time, so it felt good to take some time out from all the organizing and just focus on creating. The workshop had spirit, corazón, and sisterhood. I really felt that—the sisterhood--as soon as I came in and throughout the session. It was nice to have beginning and published poets come together to have a creative lab where we could experiment. Sometimes the attention is on those who have already created their art, those who’ve put something on the page or the stage, so it was great to have a workshop series that allowed people space, time and guidance to create.

Alejandra Sanchez, Workshop Series Creator and Leader

Our intention has been healing and empowerment in these workshops. I have been envisioning this series for a long time, so I am grateful to everyone who has helped manifest Weaving Words, Creating Worlds. It was a really beautiful experience for me. It’s been a journey that reaffirmed my commitment to working in community.  I chose to conduct my writing workshop on water and creation because in my spiritual practice, I am a daughter of Oshun. Oshun is the spirit of water, the spirit of the river. Intimately, we all know that water is life. And everything that is alive contains water. As the Yoruba proverb says, “No one is an enemy to water.” But we don’t always think about that. Every day there are opportunities for us to respect water, honor water, to protect water, to conserve water. If we do these things, we love ourselves and honor creation on all levels.

***Many thanks to my new friend Mario Moreno, owner of Moreno's Dollar Plus store in Boyle Heights, who so kindly allowed me to use his personal computer this morning (literary at the cashier counter) to post this blog. My Internet at home is useless and my computer seems to have picked up a virus. Mercury in Retrograde? Regardless, gracias Mario!


Daniel A. Olivas said...

What a wonderful post! This makes me so proud of these budding Latina poets. I have Tweeted this lovely piece to help spread the word!

olga said...

Gracias Daniel!

Alejandra Sanchez said...

Amazing and beautiful! Gracias Olga for your inspiration, words and participation! Your support in this creative writing circle of mujeres has been and continues to be invaluable <3