5 Questions with LUPE MENDEZ
1. Hey Lupe, got a favorite writing prompt?
Yeah, it’s actually a very effective one that opens up the potential for other writings to come about. I was lucky enough to take a generative writing workshop with the brilliant Sandra Maria Estevez. She was one of the workshop leads for my second year in CantoMundo (2016, I think). She had us write on a prompt “What is your name?” where she had us break down our names:
A) Who else carries your name? (as in lineage, family or otherwise)
B) What is the meaning of your name? (its root definition)
C) What spaces share your name?
My full name being Guadalupe, it had never dawned on me to write anything creative about the name. And with Sandra (she is a godsend), I actually ended up writing a 3-part poem that is now in my manuscript Why I Am Like Tequila. I use this same prompt (a little bit varied) with my high school students to talk about legacy and origins and have them process out the writing into memoir and short personal essays, as well as poetry.
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2. Hey Lupe, any advice on how to remain vulnerable as an artist in a political atmosphere where it can be dangerous to be vulnerable?
I think the vulnerability present in the artist comes from the senses, from the heart as it jars against the rational thought. There is this level of quiet that lives in an artist – where all the sensations filter thought, one that allows the artist to capture moments and translate them in the raw data this moment is. The artist processes this in an instant, as something deeply inspiring, deeply troubling, deeply warming or deeply cold. And it is the outside world that defines these moments as a tagline – the rational thought and this conflicts with how the artist has rendered it in the mind and in the heart. I think that in those moments, the artist must look to do three things:
1) Enact self-care and love, to the point that the labeling melts away: the artist must make sure that how they process the world isn’t made for them, but rather that they control the filters at all times.
2) Immerse themselves in the rational: I think the artist needs to have their wits about them. The art cannot afford to come blindly in and, in the case of most PoC artists, it never does – this life is always political. The artist must know and be able to face even the overtones, the truth of a matter, even the gutless speech that lives in contrast to what they know is right.
3) Celebrate and mourn those things that need to be: the body knows when it is time to be awake, to be en luto. It comes from the gut and one must not be afraid to face this in themselves. Be angry when the time comes. Cry when the moment is right and laugh, always laugh, even when no one is watching you, because no one and everyone is watching you.
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3. Hey Lupe, do you collect anything?
YO! So I collect comic books and record albums. Well, I say I collect, but I really just hold onto comics that I used to read as a kid. It’s funny, I actually haven’t picked up a new comic book in like 3 years. I pick up trade paperbacks but I am slow and am reading things from at least 2-3 years back. And if anybody is curious, I AM A DC HEAD ALL THE WAY.
Records is a whole other beast – I love music and am a kid who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s – records and the record player have always been a necessity.
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4. Hey Lupe, got a favorite famous poet anecdote?
HA! Ok, so a cool fanboy moment and a hella racist thing happened at AWP when it was in D.C. So, we (wife, Jasminne Mendez and I) get invited to an offsite reading at Busboys & Poets by Javier Zamora, and we chillin’ out with him and Monica Sok. The reading featured Stegner Fellows from Stanford’s CWP program past and present. So, clueless me, Javier tells me about all the other fellows (some of whom I’ve read, some I haven’t) and lo and behold, he mentions Eduardo C. Corral. And I was like “oh cool” on the outside, but on the inside I am like “ofiqfje0qw0cmqief0qiwej aaaaawwwwwwww helllll,” but I play it cool. A few folks read, Eduardo among them, and then they hit a break so people can get drinks and go potty and what not. So, I go to the restroom and I handle my business and as I am washing my hands about to leave, some white guy comes in behind me and says “oh hey, Eduardo, man, thank you for the reading, it was amazing” and he walks to a stall. I was totally mortified.
So I tell Javier, I tell Monica, I tell Jasminne, we laugh, we listen to more poetry, we drink wine, we leave. We slowly walking back to the hotel and guess who ends up walking with us – EDUARDO C. CORRAL. We say hello, share a few laughs and then as we are reaching the hotel, I tell him, “you know, somebody in the bathroom mistakenly paid you a compliment, thinking I was you.” Eduardo laughs and says “man, you should have given him an autograph or something!” We laughed, and that made the night.
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5. Hey Lupe, how has the election of Trump affected your work?
TBH – it’s made it harder and easier. I have always been a writer, an educator, and an activist, and there was a point in which I was able to compartmentalize my life – wear a different hat as necessary. I could be the artist or the arts organizer, the teacher, the activist as the need arose. But now, I no longer have that luxury. It’s as if all the positions I am holding are informing the work I am doing in all the other positions all at once. What I teach about is what I am writing about is what I am defending every day. It’s made the work easier because I am writing across styles and about topics that are so immediately necessary but it is hard because the urgency is there. I have to reach in slowly and listen to what is moving me to write vs. the imminent disaster that occurs on the news or the latest thing that is affecting the students I teach – many of whom are the first in their families here in the U.S. and the first to attend college. I have had to learn to not be reactionary, but to be thoughtful in my engagement. And my engagement is always political.
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[This Q&A was conducted in July 2018 and first published, via Facebook and Twitter, in August 2018]