Mujeres of prose

There’s something about the passion of the Mujeres Writing Group when they share their stories that makes me feel proud of my heritage and the women in my life. Last week, as part of Our Lady of the Lake University’s literary festival, I attended the Mujeres event Social Justice — Women’s Passion for Change, where five of the members read their own poignant stories of womanhood and life on the Rio Grande.

The Mujeres Writing Group originated in 2002 following a call to local parishes. They currently have 10-15 consistent members who attend their bi-monthly gatherings, where they partake in some much-needed plática sessions (which last for 30 minutes or so), eat, respond to writing prompts, and then share their writings with each other. It’s definitely not all gab for these mujeres. The group has worked on two anthologies (Encuentros de Mujeres: Women’s Collective Cultural Memory in San Antonio, Texas and En Nuestras Palabras — In Our Own Words) and also participate in community outreach.

One of the founding members of the group, Janie Alonso, expresses pride when she exclaims, “Oh God, what haven’t we done?” They’ve read at Bihl Haus, Gallista Gallery, St Mary’s University (part of the Latina Letters Conference series), and Incarnate Word (part of the Women’s Global Connection). Their community work has led them to collaborate with Women at the Well, a faith-based halfway house for women recently released from prison. As the group teaches these women how to write, the Mujeres hope that they’ll be involved in their upcoming anthology, set to be published in late 2008.

Right now, the women are focusing on their writing. With a grant from the Alice Kleberg Reynolds foundation, the Mujeres Writing Group has acquired their current writing instructor, UTSA professor and well-known Chicana writer Norma Cantú, who assists the women during their work sessions. Local artist Enedina Vasquez also helps the group with their artwork.

Belza Ramos, who joined in late 2003, says she always wanted to write. The group, she says, has “given me the structure and a way of expressing myself.” During the literary festival, she read about growing up on the Rio Grande. An excerpt of the story questions her home: “Is the frontera a barrier to keep people out? Or a passage … ?” Audience members were deep in thought while Martha Curcio read her story “Bittersweet Justice” in Spanish, her native tongue. Curcio is also an artist and she presented a mixed-media piece inspired by the group. OLLU’s associate director for Women in Church & Society, Virginia Valenzuela, says that Mujeres wants to integrate art and literature — a few of their members are artists and have used their experiences in the group as inspiration for their artwork.

“It’s in our stories we find out who we really are,” says Valenzuela. To this observer, it seems the women have found their true selves and are inspiring others with their stories.

The Mujeres Writing Group meets every other Friday in the Elliot House at Our Lady of the Lake University. For more information, contact Virginia Valenzuela at (210) 434-6711.

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