By Breana Lee,
Barrio Writers held a workshop Sept. 18 to Sept 22 from 4-7 pm in the Yolo County Library for Yolo County youth 13 to 21 years old. Librarians Vaile Fujikawa and Patty Valdovinos provided transportation for students to and from the workshop each day. They also arranged transportation to the Davis Migrant Children Center on Tuesday to include all teens in the county.
Barrio Writers is a creative writing program where teenagers receive free college level writing workshops. The program was started by Sarah Rafael García in Santa Ana, California in 2009 after García returned to her community to share the first book she wrote.
“I realized that a lot of the youth were still having same problems I had growing up if so not more than I had, so I felt like it was important to create a space where youth can express their minds freely and possibly find empowerment from themselves,” García said.
One of Barrio Writers’ focus is giving teens a voice.
“I don’t think youth are respected enough in society. Often times they are told to listen and not express themselves freely because we assume as adults, just because we have more experience, we have better responses or direction,” García said. “I think that creating a safe space where youth can speak their minds freely is really important so they can develop their critical thinking skills but also their individuality.”
Another goal is making sure teens of color feel represented by the adults in their life.
“I think making an impact as a role model is really important in not only seeing people that look or have familiar features as you as teachers or leaders but also on the page in literature,” García said. “I think that’s mostly my motivation. If youth can see themselves on and off the page as leaders then they will have the confidence to be leaders themselves.”
Valdovinos desired to have Barrio Writers come to the Yolo County Library.
“I knew bringing Barrio Writers here would be an awesome thing to do […] so I talked to Vaile and I said I think this is a great idea to bring it over but include the migrant center and include teens from here,” Valdovinos said.
Valdovinos started doing weekly story time with kids at the migrant center in April but noticed that there were also a number of teens in the migrant center.
“At the moment we had no availability to serve them, but they still attended the storytimes. So to me it was very important to provide access to the families and the kids and the teens at the migrant center because they weren’t receiving a lot of love from organizations or even from our library in that sense,” Valdovinos said. “I think especially now, in our political climate, trying to include their voices and making them feel that they are people […] it’s important for us to understand as people with resources, so that we are able to provide more for them.”
The workshop introduced various writers such as Malcolm X, Juan Felipe Herrera, Malala Yousafzai and Xánath Caraza with themes each day such as culture, community and empowerment to allow teens to connect with their background and learn creative writing. On Friday, they shared their work to family and friends in the library.
Senior Rayna Kibrya believes the program has helped her creative writing skills. She believes she has improved her writing skills by avoiding the institutional essay writing style and using more narrative and creativity to express her beliefs and opinions.
“I’ve never shared my personal writing or anything to an audience, so that was cool to do for the first time and makes me realize maybe I wanna do it in the future again,” Kibrya said.
Alma Peguero, a senior at River City High School, was looking at random fliers when the writers workshop grabbed her attention.
“I really like being in workshops because I feel like you get a lot of advice,” Peguero said.
Peguero contacted Fujikawa after she was informed that Fujikawa could provide transportation, and Fujikawa drove Peguero to and from West Sacramento for the whole week to attend the workshop.
“It was very intimidating, sharing my [writing] before I could edit it again. That was really out of my comfort zone, but I feel like it was for the best. It pushes me to share my stuff more without worrying so much about it,” Peguero said. “I learned that a lot of writing is influenced by cultural backgrounds and people’s identity.”
Peguero describes the first day as very quiet, but as the week progressed, the atmosphere grew louder as everyone got more comfortable with the others.
“I even started speaking to people in Spanish which is not something I usually do,” Peguero said.
Writing and the program as a whole has been beneficial to Peguero.
“It makes me feel okay writing about myself. I think when I write I victimize myself too much.
It made me feel more open to writing about personal stuff,” Peguero said.
García likes witnessing teen’s growth and development.
“I think my favorite part is watching them, the youth, change throughout the week, and their writing change as well. And them finding their voice and not hesitating to share their opinions and their creative writing, and then presenting it in a live reading,” García said.
The youth were not the only ones to learn from Barrio Writers; Valdovinos believes she now also has a different perspective.
“I think I’ve definitely learned a lot from the teens who participated. I think for me sometimes I forget the experiences I went through as a teen and how strong you all have to be to embrace that like the change, school, the hustle that everyone keeps trying to embed in you like having to keep going and keep going and no matter what you have to be striving for great things,” Valdovinos said. “I’ve learned that you all have a lot to show me and teach me as much as I’m able to teach you and that you all have insight to things that I, with age, am not capable of being reminded on a daily basis, but I think this program really allowed me to set foot and go back to understanding.”
Valdovinos admires García’s confidence in and relationship with youth.
“I think this program is amazing. I’ve been a full supporter for years and I continue to be. I think the work that goes with the teens and the way she connects with you and has so much faith with teens is so beautiful to see,” Valdovinos said.
The main message García hopes her students take away from Barrio Writers is that they are in control of their future. “They should feel proud of who they are and how they came to be in life,” García said. “They shouldn’t be one type of person that succeeds in the world that they too regardless of their culture, race, skin color, can be just as successful.”