Like a lot of people of color, I had difficulty finding mentors when I was a student. I had some really amazing teachers all throughout my schooling, but I never had a close relationship with any of them. There was no one to help me, no one to talk to, and no one to relate to. And our backgrounds had a lot to do with it. That’s some of my favorite writers of color have become what I like to call at-a-distance mentors.
Cherríe Moraga and Junot Díaz are just two of those writers. I went to see them speak at separate events back in early and mid-October. I saw Moraga at DePal University where she was speaking in celebration of the 25th anniversary of This Bridge Called My Back, and I saw Díaz speak at the University of Chicago.
I consider these two writers, along with Sandra Cisneros and Gloria Anzaldúa among others, at-a-distance mentors because their work is proof that people of color can be successful writers and thinkers. Their work validates me and erases all of the doubts that I had within me growing up about wanting to work with words that are not in my native language. Their work validates some of the feelings I had as a woman of color in an academic setting. And their work still validates the anger and passion that I carry with me as I grow deeper into my adult years.
I don’t know why I focus on validation so much. I’m a woman of color that loves books, reading, and writing. I don’t often meet others like me. I shouldn’t need others to validate my existence, but when those outside and even inside my community constantly question it, I think it’s okay to go to these writers for some reassurance.
At the events, Moraga and Díaz talked about the importance of our voices in a world of white supremacy. Moraga spoke about women in particular, reminding us that from Black Lives Matter to the immigrant detainees, women of color need to unite on all fronts in order to make progress. And Díaz gave all the artists in the room much needed advice: your humanity is not a wage laborer. In other words, don’t count on your art to pay the bills because that’s not what it’s for.
These writers have taught me so much about myself simply by writing what no one else in my life had ever told me. They write stories you don’t get to see on television or in the movies, and they write about our livelihood in a way that rejects what our two cultures have limited us to.
I often wonder if talking about race comes off the wrong way. But at this point in life, after years and years of being deprived of validation, I don’t care. It’s something that needs to be talked about, and seeing as how these two events were the only two literary events I’ve ever been to where white people were in the minority, I’d say it’s going to be brought up more and more as time goes on.