Monday, October 15, 2007

October Featured Artist - Senalka McDonald

Artist's Statement:

Being a young, black, Latina in America, I have always known what it is like to be unlike my American peers. This caused me to question many human actions and analyze them entirely. I feel that human emotions and relationships fuel our past and serve to shape our futures. Having grown up always questioning the dealings of humans, they are what I choose to focus my artwork on. My paintings have been about child molestation, focusing on a specific moment that changes a child's life forever. Because I am currently working though moving on to a new stage of my life, so are the children in my newer pieces. They are beginning their adolescent years; discovering social capacities, burgeoning sexuality and hidden longings. My photos and videos are of a completely different nature. I choose to focus on the grandeur of human memory. My attempt is to create a feeling of importance and beauty using a simple image, causing the viewer to relate what is being seen to his or her own memories. Serigraphy is a new obsession of mine. In this media, I ask the viewer "Who is an American?" I think about who has value within the United States and how much power the racial hierarchy has over the public. I plan this to be an ongoing project, using many different images to create a body of work that causes the viewer to question their notion of who an American truly is.

Currently, I am a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Geography.

Artist's Work:

To learn more about the artist and her work, visit her website:

October Featured Artist - Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano

Artist's Bio:

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano
is a Queer Xicano poet, dreamer and activist. Born in San José, California, he was raised in Estación Adela, Chihuahua and now lives in Austin, Texas. Lorenzo’s work has been called “uncompromising and hopeful, cínico y cariñoso,” “inspiring… provocative,” and “landing so deep / you bleed without feeling the cut.” He is the author of the Lambda Literary Award-Nominated Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen. He is in the final stages of publishing his second book, Promesas y Amenazas, an all-Spanish collection of poetry inspired by the Bolero aesthetic and is finalizing his third collection, God Don’t Live Here Anymore, scheduled for release in 2008. Lorenzo is the Director of Arts & Community Building for allgo: a Statewide Queer People of Color Organization in Texas; is a founding member and Board member of Unid@s, the National Latina/o Human Rights Organization; served on the Steering Committee of the recently consolidated National Latino Coalition for Justice; and, is the Cisgender Male CoChair of Out Youth, a community based queer youth organization in Austin. For more on Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, including random ramblings and embarrassing moments, visit:;;

An excerpt of Lorenzo's Work:

Coming Soon!!

October 13, 2007 - Salon Sit Down Discussion

The afternoon began with some new faces, Miles Davis and light snacks over at the DiverseArts Little Gallery. Black and white photos from the gallery’s recent show, Tuskeegee Airmen, were on the walls. The day’s Featured Artists: Senalka McDonald and Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano. I brought these two artists together because, with limited familiarity of their work, I was intuitively convinced that there is a dialogue between their aesthetics and processes.

Senalka’s artistic process is an unconscious, discomforting act that uses the information so readily available in the media to transform two-dimensional spaces into active inquiries of collective memory, bodies and power/powerlessness. She said, upon being asked the question, “where is your body in relation to the work?” that when she works, “It’s like I’m swimming through murkiness, asking questions [with the material and subject] until I get clear, and then once I’m there, I dive back into the murkiness again”.

Senalka began by showing us her earlier photographs of “wet women” – portraits of young women meant to capture their perceptions of themselves. From there, Senalka led us into the series of photographs where she as the artist is making inquiries into her relationship with her father, as well as a study of who her father is – as a man, a black man, a black Panamanian man. These served as primary material for a larger body of work encompassing images of black men, in and of themselves, but also as “every day people” – fathers, workers, and friends. She cites her motivation for these photographs as 1) a desire to understand her father more deeply but also 2) as a conscious attempt to create work that would put black faces on the walls of galleries. This motivation is highly resonant with her photographs of women – and serves as an exploration of the idea of self-perception. It also begs the question of how and where the artist’s own body occupies space in relationship to her subject/object. Where does the subjectivity lie? What’s so moving about her photographs is that they achieve a relative subjectivity. The young women and black men in the photographs speak their own truths, the photographer acting as a mere reflection. This kind of eye is rare and places us – the viewers - in an unspoken, simultaneous conversation with all the bodies in the room.

In a similar fashion, Senalka’s drawings (what she terms as drawings on child molestation) pulled us into a conversation with our own individual experiences, society and collective memory. Drawn from eerie, skewed angles, with slightly or wholly disfigured bodies placed in juxtaposition to each other, these pieces were, for the artist, a deep interrogation into her own sense of powerlessness. Their shapes, she states, are resonant of the works of Egon Schiel and Henry Darger. The pieces arose out of her experience of the media – watching Oprah, watching the news – where stories of child molestation appeared en masse. In this way, her work can be seen as a conversation with collective (pop) culture, and as a universe that runs parallel to the social history created by the media. These pieces are also a dialogue between the idea of innocence and the careful balance between that state and the desecration that seems all too common in post-colonial bodies. Senalka states: “I want people to be confronted with what I’m doing and to have a dialogue about it.”

Lorenzo’s work, which primarily takes the form of writing and more specifically poetry, is also a plunging into currents of media and collective memory. Lorenzo described his own work as being influenced by three major sources: religion, pop culture, and his experience as a bi-national Chicano raised in both the U.S. and Mexico. He states, “My work is really about honoring that which is considered dishonorable.” He read us numerous pieces, among them “San Lorenzo Ramera” (the first poem he wrote in English), “Psalm 69”, “Hairspray and Fideos”, “Deseo Detestado” - a piece from his new collection of bolero inspired poems Promesas y Amenazas.

What’s clear in all of his work is that the body is the primary landscape for enacting desire, and that desire is filtered through the language of religion and political astuteness. He places the queer Chicano body at the center of our landscape, unapologetically, and pushes us to consider our own relationships to desire, shame, guilt, and liberation. Taking inspiration from living artists, as well as artists whose work has outlived them, Lorenzo pieces together a narrative that transcends state and national borders and embeds the Chicano queer, male/female bodies as integral to our collective memory. He is influenced by Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Apolinaria Lorenzana, Marvin K White, Sharon Bridgforth, Sandra Cisneros, David Alfaro Siquieros, Chelo Silva, Frida Kahlo (he says, not for what she is glorified now, but for her fierceness in living in the grotesque), Maria Felix, Agustin Lara, Luis Dimitri (Lorenzo states, “He wrote stuff for women to sing, and all addressed to other men. That’s what I’m interested in.”) among others.

In speaking about one of his earliest influences – a porn found in his Baptist parents’ closet featuring Ron Jerry – Lorenzo made it clear to us that what he found so fascinating about Ron Jerry was not his physical appearance, but rather his audacity in being an ugly man who elicited confidence and who was made into a phenomenon because of his audience. This example serves as an example of the honoring of the dishonorable that Lorenzo aims to embody in his work. How is it that the grotesque occupies our imagination, and becomes a central marker of history and culture?

Lorenzo went on to describe his artistic process as “an unhealthy one” – a process which requires his own confrontation with depression, chaos and the night. He states, “As a scribe, how do I process, interpret all of what I’ve been fed about history, religion, and pop culture. [I believe my work lies] at the intersections between the different kinds of information.”

Similarly, Senalka speaks of her work as a diary – an attempt to capture with images what she cannot say with words. Her visual work is a conversation with others, as well as an inquiry into her own emotional state.

Both of these artists reside in the gaps between cultures, societies and nation-states. They both use the information in those gaps to create landscapes of inquiry and self-reflection. The media becomes a primary material for crafting innovative intersectional art that asks us to be subjects in a larger conversation around our own complicity in shifting the way the world works.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

August Featured Artist - Annette Lawrence

Artist's Bio:
Annette has been living and working in Texas since 1990. She works in both two and three-dimensional media. Her work is generally related to text and information, and physical space and time, embedded with autobiography. Recent exhibits include Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art from 1970 to the present at The Contemporary Arts Museum inHouston, TX, The Collection in Context at the Studio Museum in Harlem, andNew, Now, Next at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin TX. Dunn and Brown Contemporary in Dallas, and Betty Cuningham Gallery in New York represent Annette’s work.
Annette Lawrence is an Associate Professor of Art in the College of Visual Art and Design at
The University of North Texas in Denton, Texas.

Work Samples:

Double Edge

Crossed Edges

August 11, 2007 Salon Sit Down Discussion

Annette Lawrence brought slides of her work from the past 20 years, as well as digital photos of her recent trip to Scotland. Carl Phillips, in a talk he gave in June, talked about the need to understand and measure an artist's work not by the individual elements themselves, but by the scope and range of their work over a period of time. This could not be a more apt statement. Annette's work ranges from the minute to the grandiose, encompassing circles made out of carefully written dates from her menstrual cycle over a period of nine years as well as large string installations covering an entire 39 x 24 foot space in between floors at the Glassell School (Houston, TX).

What remains constant in her work is an inquiry into language and time, and sometimes an inquiry into time as language. What is also constant is a fascination not with the object, but with the experience of creation itself - a desire to capture in physical form the ever shifting present.

Annette's earlier work actually used letters as a way to visually evoke sound. In particular, her pieces, such as "They Must Dont Know Who We Are" leads us to question our relationship to space, language in space and memory. This piece was done in response to the Rodney King verdict and the artist used lava and limestone rocks to form the sculpture and the words within the sculpture. Another piece, "John 3:16", in which Annette drew out the verse from John 3:16 in alphabets other than the Latin Alphabet, asks us to consider our relationship to language - and its underlying symbolism. One of the participants asked what audiences' reactions have been to "John 3:16" and Annette specifically noted that fear - and/or a sense of complicity - have been common reactions, depending on the religious and political orientation of the viewer.

"Drawing Blood" in which she created circles by writing the dates from her menstrual cycle, generate a spiral effect present in both our lived experiences and in our physical world. It is with these pieces that language begins to take on the form of numbers, which she then explored in drawings themselves as well as in sculptural installations. And following this exploration, Annette began the series "Ellipses", which took music written and studied during her childhood, and transformed the notes into abstract language on the page that is simultaneously representative and sculptural.

At this juncture, Annette then began to look at sound itself, and out of this came the diptych inspired by John Coltrane's "Alabama", in which she used sound waves to create patterns on the page. And it is at this moment that there seems to be a split in how the artist approaches both her work and space. From text representing sound to text related to sound to sound as text itself.

Through all of this, Annette has been installing string sculptures in spaces as a way to explore our relationships to space, mathematical concepts and our very own humanity. Pieces such as "Theory" - an inquiry into time and material suspended in space, in which perspective impacts our understanding of truth. And an installation from the African American Museum in Dallas, in which the artist reflects on our relationship to the 20th century (the pieces on the wall were made in South Africa in patterns of nineteen using brown, black and white colors).

What I found most fascinating about Annette's work is the alchemical element underlying her use of numbers, patterns, and incredibly simple materials. Her use of repetition generates a space in which the now is suspended, even as she makes her own artistic inquiries into that very concept. We enter work that is incredibly specific because of its materials and references (for example, the dates in her "Drawing Blood" pieces), but that expands beyond the specific into a universal pulse measured primarily through our non-verbal responses to the images and installations themselves.

Currently Annette is working on pieces where she creates "Edges" out of piles of junkmail collected from November 2005 - November 2006. She is again interrogating time, but through the creation of objects that become fixed in space that are themselves a representation of time. It is almost as if she is entering her artistic cycle again, but with a shift in her inquiry - it is no longer about the text itself, but about time as text - time as a marker of her moments of "now".

The discussion that followed Annette's presentation was rich and spanned a wide range of questions, including questions about her materials, use of colors, her relationship to the number nine (9), her artistic ancestors, her artistic process, her choice of languages (she stated that right now, she's figuring out what language she is working in, but that she's working with objects again for the first time in almost 20 years), her choice of iconography and her thoughts on aging as an artist. We discussed her use of lists, not just as her nature, but as material for her work, where the lists function as "a journal" of her life, and a mirror of her artistic process, and her interrogation of different forms of time ("generational time" and "cyclical time" to name a couple of examples).

Annette listed her influences from a wide range of artistic genres, including writers Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Angela Davis; musicians Cassandra Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Diane Reeves, Betty Carter ("all female [jazz] vocalists, really"), John Coltrane as well as other great jazz musicians; visual artists Constantin Brancusi, Mark Rothko, David Hammons, Adrian Piper, Ana Mendieta, Janine Antoni, Agnes Martin; to all manner of films ("I'm a film buff." she said).

I'm sure that today she's influences at least all of the people who were in that room.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

June 2 Salon Sit Down - Discussion

We started out at DiverseArts Little Gallery and migrated to Bolm Studios where a group of us gathered to listen to and share with this month's featured artist, Sharon Bridgforth.

Sharon's new production - the text installation love conjure/blues is about to go up in two weeks and we took this opportunity to learn about her process and the thinking behind this important work. Sharon presented us with a history of the piece, as well as two delicious excerpts from the performance. Within all of that this is a little about what we learned.

love conjure/blues began back in 1998, and its first incarnation was as a book, published by RedBone Press in 2004. Sharon identified her process as one of listening to the ancestors, and letting the work develop from feeling. Etta James, Jimmy Scott and H-Bomb Ferguson are some of the many voices that came through to her during the development of this piece, and that influence her work - as do her ancestors - both her family (with their strong legacy of storytelling) and the Black Indians of Louisiana. Where art becomes a party, becomes ritual.
Sharon described blues as sacred as ritual, as ritual itself, as making magic. Her work, directly embodies the blues and jazz - both in its content and form. For both in her text and in the elaboration of her text in four-dimensional space, Sharon is using polyrhythmic time and space. Where ancestors and spirits are as real as the embodied characters, and where a character is the same essential self through time.

One of the participants reflected back to Sharon that the process of her work makes her a conductor. This directly tied into what Sharon discussed in terms of sound. Where language is about music, and songs act as transition. In love conjure/blues specifically, sound becomes a soundscape for the text. And the text lives in a circle. And the circle is key, because place informs ritual, which informs the magic of the work itself.

The fundamental question informing Sharon's (and Jen Simmons - one of Sharon's key collaborators in love conjure/blues) is: how does spirit interact with humanity interact with people in the room interact with technology? For the answer, we will have to wait and see the performance on June 15th - when Sharon will be asking audiences to be fully present to her work, as she gives fully back to them.

Some of the questions I asked included: At what point does sound become language? How does place inform your work?

Sharon responded by saying that feeling is the point where sound becomes language, that it's a slow rise from the inside to the out. And that place absolutely has a huge role in her work - both in terms of her relationship to place (in particular New Orleans, Los Angeles and Memphis), and to what place does in setting context for her narratives.

I asked participants what Sharon's work evoke for them? Folks responded by saying that Sharon's work evokes a sense of the familiar, a pushing of form, dance, "serious play", ritual, memory, Abbey Lincoln, risk-taking, honor, and big-legged women.

Yes. Yes. and Yes.

June Featured Artist: Sharon Bridgforth

Sharon Bridgforth was the Salon's Featured Artist in June.


RedBone Press, Lambda Literary Award winning author of the bull-jean stories, Sharon Bridgforth is currently touring The love conjure/blues Text Installation. A recipient of the Theatre Communications Group/National Endowment for the Arts Playwrights Award, Bridgforth is Anchor Artist for The Austin Project (produced by The Center for African and African American Studies, U.T. Austin). For more information go to:

About her work:

THE love conjure/blues TEXT INSTALLATION
IS A MULTI-MEDIA PERFORMANCE. Bridgforth has collaborated with filmmaker Jen Simmons, composer Helga Davis, and a stellar cast and crew to create a film that will serve as a digital environment that she will narrate LIVE inside of. This presentation will bring to life the reality created in love conjure/blues, that the past, present, future, the dead, the living, and the unborn coexist/tell the story in concert; and it will offer an interactive environment that will support the audience as responsible witness-participants...

Jen Simmons' work lives in the liminal spaces between the convergence of film, live performance, and the web. Simmons has created and will install the love conjure/blues film that is the digital envirnoment that will house the performance. Join in the fun as we step into a world of raucous gender bending/jook joint singing/Prayer circling/sexually liberated/deep loving fun!

For more information about love conjure/blues visit the website:

An excerpt of her work:

"it was a hot night after a hot day. the peoples was in they finest/fresh pressed and set for whatever bettye's was about to bring. it was rib night/the start of the week-end..." an excerpt from love conjure/blues (c) Sharon Bridgforth, published by RedBone Press ( )

Watch videos of love conjure/blues

To learn more about Sharon Bridgforth's work, visit her website:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

March Featured Artist: Wura-Natasha Ogunji

Wura-Natasha Ogunji was the featured artist for the Salon Sit Down on March 17, 2007.


Wura-Natasha Ogunji is a sculptor who sews on paper.

About her work:

My creative work is rooted in thread. I sew on paper. I love the sensuality of thread, especially the way it looks against paper, sewn into paper, emerging from paper.

To learn more about Wura-Natasha's work, visit her website:

An excerpt of her work:

March 17 Salon Sit Down - Discussion

Today's discussion began with Zora Neale Hurston. One of the participants brought the book Speak So You Can Speak Again - the Life of Zora Neale Hurston, a collection of vignettes and printings of original writings by Zora Neale Hurston, including her short play, Spunk. Folks around town are interested in planning an event honoring the life of Zora Neale Hurston, and so we talked about how we were introduced to her work, individually and collectively, and what the impact of her work has been. Another participant commented that Zora's work, in particular, the recordings in the holdings at the Library of Congress, are particularly beautiful. Zora, at one point relegated to obscurity, has become a compass point for artists interested in questions of social interaction, overlaps in the myths of history (who's writing/telling/speaking the story?), and representation. Doubtful she would speak of herself this way, but here we are in 2007, opening a sunny Saturday afternoon discussion with a collective homage to her.

We then went on to discuss the works of featured artist, Wura-Natasha Ogunji. Wura presented individual pieces from her series, Monuments. In these works, we witnessed the extraordinary marriage of thread and paper - two fibers brought together to create a three dimensional image that is both a representation and an embodiment of intention. The majority of the pieces within the series are constituted by combinations and hybridizations of birds, women, abstract topograph-like `orgasm maps', and architectural elements (columns). In speaking about her work, Wura mentioned that the questions she is currently considering are questions of what is monumental? how does one create a piece of work that is both opened and closed, simultaneously? what are the overlaps of the sacred and profane (and she goes so far as to explicate that there is no division between these)? and finally, how does the work, and the actual thread used to create the work, demonstrate intention? Wura cited her artistic ancestors as: Ana Mendieta, Louise Bourgeois, Antonio Tapies, and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (as a contemporary, she serves more as a cousin). I asked her to consider questions of time/timelessness in her work, and how process and materials interact with each other. Her responses to these questions included comments on how the thread represents hours of labor on one level, however, they the composition of the piece is beyond frameworks of time. A very interesting tension in the work.

Participants also discussed connections between the body and thread - how veins and sinew are threadlike, and Wura suggested that because her work is based on Yoruba cosmology, it is simultaneously referencing the body, the earth, and the monument of the piece itself - that the stitched work is as significant as what it represents. Another participant focused on the question of intention and how intention translates beyond the aesthetics of the work into how the work interacts with the viewer. Because one of the artist's materials is thread, we touched upon the use of thread in practical matters, such as the sewing of clothes for wages. At the question of impressions, Frank mentioned the haiku "The upward flight of a great slow moving bird." (citation to follow). With Wura's work, we asked questions such as: When is a piece finished?
What is it about thread that is so intriguing? Is it that thread is both a practice and an art?

We had an intimate gathering, and wonderful discussions, as well as the opportunity to share resources and information about upcoming events.

Looking forward to meeting again!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

February 17 Salon Sit Down - Discussion

Today we featured two writers, Denea Stewart-Shaheed and Erika Gonzalez.

What we focused on in the discussion were questions of artistic ancestry, the ways in which the artists' works interact with landscape and time. Excerpts from the two artists will be available shortly.

As the organizer of the event, and this being the introductory meeting, I was most struck by the balance between organic and formal interaction. I've structured the process so that the artist has time to present their work in any way they so chose. Following their presentation, I ask specifically pointed questions in an attempt to unearth the context of the work. In this sense, the folks in the Salon space act as witnesses to the artist's thought process, presentation and vocabulary.

For Denea, I asked her to speak about her artistic ancestors. She responded by citing: James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, John Coltrane and Bill Withers. What was interesting to me in this is that in addition to those artists, I also saw Toni Cade Bambara, Sharon Bridgforth. Another guest made connections between Denea's work and Tananarive Due's work. I asked Denea how she perceives the underlying dialogue of her work, and she responded that in addition to it being a story of migration, it also serves as a story about relationships between women over generations, as well as an exploration of gender and sexuality. There's sharecropping in her work, migration between Louisiana and Texas, magic, the blurring of boundaries between masculinity and femininity. When the conversation opened up to the guests, their questions and incites focused on the questions of accurate representations, a sense of time and timelessness, boundaries between present and past.

For Erika, I asked her to speak about the border, and the ways in which border tropes impact her writing process. What was immediately apparent in both her work and the reading of it are the repeated images of the border, water, assembly lines - the boundaries between machinery and human bodies - and the multiple references of landscape, mythical ancestry and blood kin. The guests asked her to consider the connections between blood-water-food, the embodiment of Coatlicue within the work itself, and to continue to explore the notion of borders and liminal spaces. Erika identified Gloria Anzaldua and Louise Erdrich as artistic predecessors, specifically. She also discussed how her work is deeply embedded in personal connections to both words and concepts. An artist that was cited in reference to her work was Wangechi Mutu.

Overall, this was a very inciteful discussion and themes of displacement, crossings, borders and water emerged from both of these artists' works. What I can't help but think about is Jonathan Lethem's article "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism" (Harpers - February 2007) on the nature of artistic practice. He writes: "Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing." Whether or not I agree with the notion of a `master' artist is dubious, but the notion that the work of an artist is inherently intertextual (thanks T.B. for this one!) seems quite sensible. I have to say that I also appreciate being pushed to consider the notion that the creative process begins not in the moment of putting pen to paper, tool to matter, but rather, in the moment of inspiration. Very nice.

Can't wait until next month!

February Featured Artist: Denea Stewart-Shaheed

Denea Stewart-Shaheed was one of two featured artists for the Salon Sit Down on February 17th, 2007.


Coming Soon!!

About Her Work:

Coming Soon!!

Excerpts from Her Work:

Coming Soon!!

February Featured Artist: Erika Gonzalez

Erika Gonzalez was one of two featured artists for the Salon Sit Down on February 17th, 2007.


Erika González is a 27 year old Xicana born in the border of Eagle Pass, TX and Piedras Negras Coahuila, MX. She comes from a family of Tejano musicians and migrant farm workers. In 1998, Erika received a scholarship to attend St. Edward's University through the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) where she graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and a Minor in Psychology.

Her passion is working for social justice issues and writing. Currently Erika is Co-Director of a social and environmental justice organization based in East Austin called PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources) where she has worked for the past five years organizing around transportation, affordable housing/gentrification, health and juvenile justice for people of color and the working poor.

About Her Work:

Most of my writing focuses on women in my family and my grandparents. I always keep in mind my ancestors, my grandparents, and the Creator when I write. I see my writing as a way to heal myself and help others heal through my words. When I write, I tend to bring up bodies of water and mention the importance of land. In the pieces I chose to share with the Austin Salon, I write about the loss of my grandmother Mima due to her drinking a gallon of Miracle Water from the Rio Grande aka the Rio Bravo said to have been blessed pure. I write about the connection to my grandmother and question the treatment of bodies of water by humans (contamination) and the effects that has on our health and spirit.

In my other piece, I write about my mother and her strengths and weaknesses as my guide into womanhood. I write about the realization of my mother’s struggles and realize that it is now time for both of us to fight against what has oppressed us. I also explore my own feelings of emptiness in my womb and the hopes of one day having children.

Excerpts of Erika's Work:
published with author's permission. author retains all copyright.

School Trips Part I and II

School Trips Part I: The Tortilla Factory

I was just a little guerquía in Eagle Pass.

not too special,

not too popular,

just a little shy mocosa

in the back of a school bus

going to the tortilla factory or nursing home

on elementary school trips,

as if our mama’s tortillas and abuelitos living

in our own homes weren’t enough already.

But the tortilla factory made me understand

the tortilla in a border town….

All abuelitas made homemade tortillas…

de maíz

or de harina with every meal….

Then, there was the tortilla factory –

an abuelita’s worst nightmare.

All of us guerquios mocosos lined up

outside the building,

pansas llenas with morning tacos,



The door opened.

Our cheeks were kissed

with a hot breeze.


Machinery everywhere,

an assembly line of round maíz

just traveling around and around in a maze

and at the very end were

hundreds of stacks of tortillas, ready to be placed

in clear plastic bags.

We all looked at each other in shock,

almost wanting to puke our morning taquitos

de chorizo and eggs –

but we kept on looking and smelling,


Starting to smell good!


Starting to smell like home!


Starting to smell like the border,

The Border

Where corn and machines meet for the first time,

but abuelitas fight not to be replaced

with brick buildings that sell illusions

to young children

growing up in a border – modern world –

Where corn is snow genetically engineered

and future abuelitas line up for food stamps and buy into the

cycle of believing

the tortilla factory wasn’t so bad after all?

Part II: The Senior Activity Center

Once again we lined up –

Little soldaditos

With hands to our backs

And school teacher breaking us in,

Molding our postures, and saying,

“Mijos, This is the Senior Activity Center.

Portansen bien, and remember to smile

At the viejitos, okay?”

So we lined up to shake viejito’s hands,

Going around and around an assembly line

Of rectangular table while viejitos

Turned their chairs around,

Stopped eating their meals so they

Could smile at us, and shake

Our baby soft hands.

I couldn’t look into their eyes –

Just their old, wrinkled hands

That smelled like

Band aids and baby lotion.

Then viejita says,

“Ay Severino, no es esa tu grandaughter?”

My heart beat


Too embarrassed to speak to Papa Cheno


In line

Couldn’t move.

Couldn’t look into his eyes.

He was a stern man.



Smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.

His home was my home,

But we hardly ever spoke.

We met again.

Two strangers meeting

for the

second time.

Then schoolteacher says,

“Keep the line moving, mija, keep the line moving….”

Our hands met in an embrace.

Felt warm inside.

Felt the border in my heart crumbling.

Felt the distance,

the border crossings,

my abueltio witnessing his home turn into two countries –

bitter strong man –

We crossed a distant border that day.

Papa Cheno and I,

But the line

Still keeps on