Preserving Our Voices

Inspired by GrubStreet's upcoming Latinx Writers' Weekend on June 2-4, author Camille Gomera-Tavarez shares her thoughts on preserving voices through art, the power of representation, and the importance of finding your community. Camille will join acclaimed poet and bestselling picture book author Rio Cortez for a free closing address at GrubStreet's Latinx Writers' Weekend. 

Growing up, I remember very clearly the first person I met who presented a creative career as a viable option. I was in high school, she was a South Asian girl in my art class a year ahead of me. When we came upon the topic of careers, she was dead set – a professional artist, preferably a painter. I was gobsmacked. I never knew that being creative for money was a life that actual, real-life people had. Much less another non-white person.

And so I went to art school. Therein lies the power of representation. My whole life trajectory steered by simply seeing something of myself in another person. Despite that, I know that “representation” can mean everything and nothing at all. It is a powerful thing but a remarkably limited one. 

Its limits are revealed when we move past that initial creative spark. When I infiltrate a space, but I am the only Afro-Dominican person there and hold no real power. When I become a writer, and my book is a check box that white readers tick off for their heritage months. When I must write a second book, but there are only a handful of other writers like me and I am not connected to them. So, what do I do with that? What does one do if they are a socially-inept Black creative with a full-time day job feeling isolated? How do I create with the world and not detached from it? How do I find my people?

For me, I first looked to the past. I read Black Women Writers at Work and learned that Toni Morrison also felt alone. I read James Baldwin and Louise Erdrich and Juan Francisco Manzano. I found pieces of myself in their writing and histories. And that representation made me feel less lonely.

Next, I found a therapist. And I reached out to a couple of non-writer friends and vented to them about my writing. Asked for their perspectives, their life experiences. Just talking about a thing can make it seem less massive.

And then, much to my surprise and quite recently, writing community slowly trickled in. Inviting me to their Slack groups and events and social media spaces. I subscribed to groups championing underrepresented writers, like Dominican Writers and Las Musas Books and Tin House (and now GrubStreet!). All great for promotion, writing retreats, and exchanging vital information in a non-unionized career. As someone without an English degree, they also served as a continuing education. A space to take workshops and learn how writers structure their days. You can find representation in that kinship. 

But these kinds of community are more like tools. Even here, among a lot of lovely people, representation becomes tricky. Not everyone who writes in my genre or looks like me will share my politics. Identity can be a hollow thing to base deep relationships on. Sure, I can offer myself and be transparent. But at the end of the day, I meet new people, and I connect with only a few.

I think in my head I imagined this ideal creative community, like an oasis in the desert, with the perfect mentors that would check on me daily to help me reach my goals. That one day I would find them and fulfill this craving for artistic family and become whole. Though, as I grow, I am learning that community is a verb. It is something that, even as an introvert, I must activate for myself. I must ask for help. Which is embarrassing and annoying, I know.

In this way, finding a community is a lot like finding a therapist, which is a lot like dating. It’s an enigma with many pitfalls. You have to just keep searching and remain faithful to love and beauty and the belief that the right people will find you. You get dressed and you say, “Who knows? Maybe at this next event I’ll meet the one…”

Author Camille Gomera-Tavarez will join acclaimed poet and bestselling picture book author Rio Cortez for a free closing address at the conclusion of GrubStreet's Latinx Writers' Weekend. You can learn more about the Latinx Writers' Weekend weekend and register to join here

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