Santa Cruz writers of color tell stories we might never have heard otherwise

At one level, the term “people of color” is a way of categorizing people simply by what they are not (white). POCs are, in fact, people who can have almost nothing in common with each other. A person of color, after all, might have family roots in Indonesia or Iran, Japan or Panama, South Africa or even South Carolina. Many are immigrants, but just as many were born in the country. Many are bilingual, but many are not.

But on another level, at least in the United States, the term connects people who share a fundamental common experience, the experience of being “other” – whether blatantly, subtly or, as is often the case, both – in a country still dominated by whites.

Regardless of our will, there remains a chasm between the experiences of white people and non-white people. And as long as that remains the case, groups like the Santa Cruz Writers of Color will be significant as vehicles for telling the stories of those differences.

On October 6, Writers of Color Santa Cruz County will host an evening of poetry and music at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, in an event co-presented by MAH, Bookshop Santa Cruz and Bad Animal. The evening will feature novelist Jaime Cortez reading excerpts from her collection “Gordo,” prominent Filipino/American poet and activist Shirley Anchetta (who reportedly plans to perform on accordion) and Watsonville Poet Laureate Bob Gomez singing Mexican corridos.

The group, which consists of about 22 writers from across the county, has been together for less than two years. The leader of the group is artist and poet Vivian Vargas who, while living as a bookseller in Germany, created a writers group for English-speaking writers. In Santa Cruz, she wanted to do something similar, but with people of color.

She contacted the literary departments of UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College and, through well-connected writers like Anchetta, began bringing interested writers together to meet, read each other’s work, and socialize. support each other.

The WOC group is a product of the pandemic shutdown. As a result, he got used to meeting via Zoom. “The first part is to exchange information and talk about the events,” Vargas said. “And in the second part of the meeting, one of our writers will lead a writing workshop. They will focus on one type of poetry and theme, and present it to the group, and then we will write based on that prompt.

As if to illustrate what a group called Writers of Color routinely faces in today’s America, last fall the group had to hastily cancel an online event as it was “bombarded by Zoom”, the practice of aggressively interrupting a Zoom meeting. More than half a dozen trolls logged into the Zoom meeting shouting and flashing lights, and they even started posting pornographic images.

“We tried to stop him,” Vargas said, “but it was like a mole. We just had to stop the whole event.

Since then, Vargas has learned to protect his events from Zoom’s racist bombardments, and the group has continued.

Adela Najarro is a published poet with a new collection titled “Volcanic Interruptions”. She is also an English teacher at Cabrillo College. Najarro heard about the WOC group through his colleague from Cabrillo’s faculty, Victoria Bañales, who told him about it.

Adela Najarro, teacher at Cabrillo College and poet:

Adela Najarro, teacher at Cabrillo College and poet: “What do we all [writers of color] have in common? It can be imagining the homeland or writing in two languages.

Najarro writes extensively about his family’s history in Nicaragua, and while none of the other writers in the group are also from Nicaragua, they still share some commonalities.

“Well, for example,” and Najarro, “We could have an Asian writer and a Filipino writer and a Nicaraguan-American writer. But what do we all have in common? to write in two languages. There are a lot of issues that are really specific to being a person of color and how that affects your writing. So we can talk about those things.

Westside Santa Cruz resident Elbina Batala Rafizadeh is also a member of Writers of Color. She was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 7 years old. At 65, she has spent most of her life in the health field, as a public health nurse and teacher. Only recently has she turned her creativity to spiritual-themed poetry, largely reflecting her family heritage in the Philippines.

Rafizadeh said she was encouraged to deepen her creative source through her involvement in the WOC group. “We kind of have a common experience,” she says, “even though we don’t know each other. But where we come from, even though we were born here, we all come from a place that is either a migrant or a place where the family struggled in the United States. And it’s kind of a connection. And I think that’s a voice that needs to be spoken and needs to be heard. I really feel at home with them.

The Writers of Color Event takes place Oct. 6 at the MAH, starting at 6:30 p.m. This is a free event, but registration is required.