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In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and emphasizing the importance of being prepared for a professional world, LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) welcomed Angie Cruz on October 31st in the E-building’s Poolside Café.
Ms. Cruz, who previously visited the campus in 2017, is an Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, writer of short stories and essays for renowned magazines and journals, co-founder and editor of Aster(ix), author of Soledad, Let It Rain Coffee and her most recent, acclaimed novel: Dominicana.
The event was the second of LAGCC’s Latinx Heritage Authors’ Series, which presented three other Latinx authors who spoke about their work and provided writing workshops for the students in attendance. The series was hosted by the English Department’s Latinx Heritage Committee and the Women’s Center, in collaboration with the nonprofit literary organization TwentyTwenty Books and LAGCC’s Student Affairs Co-Curricular Fund.
Dr. Joy Sanchez-Taylor, a professor from LaGuardia’s English Department, introduced Ms. Cruz and emphasized the importance of educating LaGuardia students on Latinx culture.
“If you take Latinx students from all different cultural backgrounds and put them together, we make up the largest ethnic demographics on campus,” said Dr. Sanchez-Taylor. “We want to educate and break the assumptions about Latinx people because of the effects of things like media and things that we see all around us.”
During her discussion, Ms. Cruz spoke about how the strong relationship with her community motivated her to get into the literary professional world. She also took a moment to read a passage from her novel Dominicana.
At the beginning of her speech, Ms. Cruz recalled some moments with her childhood squad as an empowering feeling that helped her to go out into a world that usually discriminates against women of color.
“We were the girls from 164th street and nobody dared to step up to us if we stuck together,” said Ms. Cruz. “We were Puerto Rican, Lebanese, African American, Chinese, Cuban, Dominicans. We were inseparable until we went to high school.”
Ms. Cruz said that after her crew separated, a sense of loss invaded her life, since she did not have that sense of a community in solidarity to support her. However, that changed when she started to discover Latinx Literature authors and she could find new allies in them. Those Latinx stories were a key to “strengthen her spirit,” she admitted.
“I didn’t have my girls on the block, but I found a new squad in these writers across these fast intersecting identities,” she said. “I read voraciously and through reading, my consciousness started to shift in ways that made me very unpopular at my family’s dinner table. I could no longer stand by and allow for family members or friends to make racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks even where they were just joking.”
After her brief speech, Ms. Cruz engaged in a talk with the audience, Dr. Sanchez-Taylor, and M.S. Joanna De Leon, LaGCC’s Women’s Center Director.
Ms. Cruz recalled the obstacles she faced trying to convince publishers, since they claimed there was no market to make her book successful. Even though it was a long and difficult process to release her novel, Dominicana, it only gave her the strength to continue working. For her, the fact that the Dominican and Latinx populations are not considered of important in terms of New York City demographics, is painful.
“[In a way] they’re saying that the story that writers of color are trying to say, particularly immigrant writers and Latinx writers, are not significant enough. Or what they call valuable or profitable enough to take a risk on, to put in production.”
This experience encouraged Ms. Cruz to start her literary journal Aster(ix), a project that supports writers of color, especially women, to publish their works. For her, both Dominicana and Aster(ix) are the perfect example of building a true sense of community. Ms. Cruz advised students to support that sense of community through selfless actions every day, even by simply sending an absent classmate their missing homework.
“There should be some kind of unconditional faith and trust transaction. The thing that works is if you move in the world with trust that you’re working really hard and doing something really beautiful,” said Ms. Cruz to highlight the idea that networking is better when approaching someone without looking to receive something in return.
“It works for me. With my book, I am telling a story that matters to me. I want it to reach the people, then people change their lives. Slowly and surely that goodwill can help the community,” she said.
In the last minutes of the event, some students had the opportunity to engage with Ms. Cruz while she signed copies of her novel, Dominicana.