By Natalie Orozco
For over 25 years, CherrÃ­e Moraga has been dedicated to work centered on building community amongst diverse people. She has been nationally recognized for her plays, which include a Theatre Communications Group Theatre Artist Residency Grant in 1996, and two Fund for New American Play Awards—one for Shadow of a Man in 1990 and one for Watsonville: Some Place Not Here in 1995.
Moraga, a California-based writer, has premiered her work at Theatre Artaud, Theatre Rhinoceros, the Eureka Theatre and Brava Theater Center. Brava’s production of Moraga’s Heroes and Saints in 1992 received numerous awards for best original script, including the Will Glickman Prize, the Drama-logue and Critic Circles Awards and the Pen West Award. Her plays have been presented throughout the Southwest, as well as in Chicago, Seattle and New York.
Moraga’s visit to UC Santa Cruz began with two Latina grad students at UCSC, Elisa Huerta and Susy Zepeda. They knew about Moraga’s campaign to raise awareness for an organization known as La Red Xicana Indigena, a network of Xicanas organizing in the area of social change through international exchange, indigenous political education, spiritual practice and grassroots organizing.
Huerta and Zepeda thought Moraga would be a great inspiration to artists at UCSC and went to the University’s Chicano Resource Center, known as El Centro, to help make their idea become a reality.
“Our idea was to bring together the people who make up the creative community at UCSC—the diverse who are underserved,” Huerta said.
Their dream came true, and Moraga attended UCSC for two full days with an itinerary jam-packed with events. After a public address Thursday evening, a book signing, a Friday luncheon with the Merrill Provost and student affiliates, and two creative writing workshops, Moraga spoke with City on a Hill Press (CHP).
CHP: Why did you decide to come and speak out to the community of UCSC?
CM: I’d been in communication with [the graduate students] because initially I wanted to do a kind of fundraiser that would introduce La Red Xicana Indigena, an organization that I’m one of the founding people of. And also I wanted to bring to UCSC some thoughts about this growing movement of Chicanas as Indigenas (indigenous). There was a good base of support among the women of color grad students here who organized this event; that was sort of a fundraiser for this organization [all proceeds went to La Red Xicana Indigena]. Also to help bring up these questions for discussion up here on campus.
CHP: What did you hope to gain from Thursday night’s public address and the workshops you gave [on Friday]?
CM: To raise what I believe is really important critical consciousness around where we need to go politically as Chicanas in terms of being able to reclaim our indigenous identity and to be able to develop a kind of critical and political practice [of our own] to counter the United States’ sort of empire building project occurring across the globe.
CHP: Who is your target audience when you speak and write?
CM: The people I spoke to during my visit—the majority of people of color. Young people (she smiles), I have great faith in their promise and so it’s a great audience. It’s not exclusively that audience, but in general, anybody that will listen to me is my audience so its wonderful to have that response from that community.
CHP: What advice would you give to students aspiring to break a career in the literature arts field?
CM: Well I’ve been saying since last night that people need to find their original voice and the way that you find your original voice is on some level sort of metaphorically at least speaking—to return home. To be able to uncover and validate the voices and sensibility that we were raised with in our own culture and then we have a shot at finding original work that we sort of try to copy into a kind of mainstream literary â€¦ sensibility, you know? It will be innovative, and so I think that the best shot is to always try and come home.
CHP: Do you have a particular piece of written work you consider your favorite? If so, why?
CM: No, I think whatever I’m working on currently is always the one that is my favorite—the one that’s engaging me. It’s the set of problems or questions and stories that concern me most currently. So whatever I’m currently working on is the one that’s most important.
CHP: Do you ever have difficulty writing? Students often describe writer’s block, a place where they don’t know where to begin. Do you get that and what would you recommend to other writers who get it too?
CM: Yes, I get writer’s block and usually it means there’s something I don’t want to write about and it’s usually some sort of formal self-censorship. So basicallyâ€¦that’s the thing I try to force myself to get to and if I could get to that thing the rest of the writing will free itself up.
CHP: Is there anything else you would like to say or add?
CM: I’ve had a great visit. I feel like the response here has been very, very warm. People have been very open-hearted and willing to take risks in the workshops that we had. There seems to be great hunger among â€¦ students of color here to really be able to find some sort of reflection of their own experience, you know, as artists and critical thinkers. I was really glad that they wanted so much because it made it really easy to work here.
There was just a great enthusiasm to receive sort of guidance around their questions and concerns.