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Librotraficante: El Mango y El Cerebro

We are excited to announce that Zelene Pineda Suchilt of the NYIC has been invited to participate in an exciting project, Librotraficante.  The project aims to build underground libraries and  to give communities access to books banned in school libraries under the Arizona's law HB2281 affecting ethnic studies in public schools..

Zelene departed on Monday, March 12 is currently sending dispatches from the road on her blog (rebelene.com).  You can also follow her on twitter (@rebelenenyc). 

Below, we are posting her first blog post where she recounts how literature, writing and the arts changed her life and opened her eyes to a new world of possibilities.  We hope to post cross-post more of her pieces soon!


El Mango y el cerebro - by Zelene Pineda Suchilt

The same year that my seventh grade English class read “The House on Mango Street” was the same year I met Sandra Cisneros. 

In 2001 Nuestra Palabra coordinated a Latino Boys writing group, the group was not solely for Latinos but it hoped to encourage this demographic to explore their heritage and manhood through the collective art of writing and sharing instead of joining “The Little Crazy Crew” a sort of gang created and organized by Mexican and Mexican-American boys and girls who lived off of Dunlavy in rundown apartment complexes.  It was a rite of passage for many youth who could not find a place in the gay-junky streets of the Montrose neighborhood in Houston. As for me, I lived in a rundown shot-gun house off of Shepherd Street in what used to be considered Freedmen’s Town but is now referred to as Midtown. I was not part of the Little Crazy Crew, nope, you’d find me babysitting in the summer or selling Tortas to the construction workers building a tremendous Condo high-rise right across the street from our rundown row house, saving money in hopes of buying a purse cute enough to make the preppy white girls like me or at least borrow my lip gloss. After the preppy thing didn’t work out, you’d find my hair up in Princess Lea buns listening to the Sex Pistols trying to impress the skaters. My reason for demanding that a Latina Girl’s Writing Club be created wasn’t because I acknowledged that statistically I would end up pregnant and out of school in a couple of years, it was because I couldn’t stand the idea of not having a girls club, if they got one, we should too!

Looking back now, I see that there was no way for my 13-year-old dreams to come true, of being a neurosurgeon, because I was already set up to fail. I was too intimidated to apply for the vanguard classes, predominantly white, and when I went home I didn’t always have time for homework since I had to care for my younger sisters while my mom was at work and came home late, I had no way of learning discipline, just lots and lots of responsibility. The writing club allowed me to explore who I was in an honest and encouraging way with other girls of color, who were low-income like me. We read the work of other girls and women of color, we finally saw ourselves our lives from a broader and intricate perspective, apart and unique from the white mainstream that was shown to us at school and on television. In our long hot summer workshops we bonded and ate pizza, we got a chance to meet a real live published author who pushed us to see ourselves and our families in a positive and funny light. So many times in our classes, people like us were presented as disadvantaged and not as intelligent or successful as our white counterparts. Finally, I had something to fall back on, when my unique intelligence and talent wasn’t being recognized during the school hours, something to help me cope with the pain of being a teenager, something to help my broken heart deal with the fact that the boy I liked didn’t like me back because I was Mexican and poor.

Finally, through the writing group, I was selected to read one of my poems at Houston’s prestigious Alley Theater as the city welcomed Sandra Cisneros present her new book “Caramelo”. Of course as a 13-year-old I didn’t realized the caliber of the honor or the caliber of Cisneros , that is why when I met her in the green room backstage I took the liberty of introducing myself and attempted to start a conversation with her about feminism, something I read in Time magazine and decided to adopt, when I droped the Steinman bomb, Ms. Cisneros dismissed me and told me to read the following Latina feminists, which I did not recognize but in my fantasy now I would imagine them to be Gloria Anzaldua, Cherie Moraga, and Lydia Cacho. She kindly signed my journal and gave me her agent’s card so I could get in touch with her to follow-up about the feminists I assume, I didn’t see her again until she spoke on stage to talk about Caramelo. Sadly, I lost the journal and card I had taped inside on a bus ride home, but meeting her changed the course of my life inexplicably. Simply, I saw that I had other options, other ways to operate on minds apart from surgery, other ways to inspire respect and admiration from society. After meeting  Sandra I walked forward and in strides paving my own path towards my dreams.

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