As part of a series of interviews with students participating in the recent conference, Thinking its Presence: Race and Creative Writing, CutBank asked some questions of Rosemary about her experience with race in academia, creative writing programs, her own writing, and what she reads. The conference brought writers and scholars together to engage in conversation about race in writing. CutBank: Why are you participating in this conference? Why do you think it is important?
RM: I was intrigued by the fact that we are having the race conference in Montana. I’m Mexican-American. I hate that label since I consider myself Mexican. Both my parents were Mexican. I’m 2nd generation American on my mother’s side.
CB: You were surprised by the location because Montana is homogenous?
RM: I’ve lived in Helena and Glendive, which is near North Dakota.Want to talk about homogenized? Considering that I grew up in Los Angeles and later San Diego, when I moved to Montana in 1981 I noticed the lack of minorities in the state. I moved to Bozeman in 1987 and lived there until I moved to Missoula for grad school.
Growing up in L.A. during the 60s, I felt the distinct discrimination of having brown skin. 2nd class citizen.
When I moved to Montana,I didn't feel discriminated against. The only time I’ve experienced a form of discrimination was when I moved to Missoula and it wasn't because I was Mexican, it was because people assumed I was Native American and they viewed me differently.
CB: As a student, and as a teacher, what do you hope this conference can spark in creative writing programs?
RM: I feel I can identify with its purpose of removing barriers. I have thoughts on how my ethnicity impacts my own writing, on how they coalesce.
That's also the dual purpose of the conference itself; I think it's important for people here to look at questions of race.
I'm teaching a creative writing nonfiction class this semester and one of the first assignments was for my class to write a personal essay. One student, who is biracial, Japanese-American, wrote about how he had been bullied because of his identity on both sides—in Japan and then in America. I talked to him about this conference and he was very interested in seeing what people had to say about it, in exploring their identity and expression through writing. For students like him it's a wonderful thing to participate in.
CB:What will your reading be about?
RM: The piece I'm reading was originally a prose poem, but it's now a longer narrative about my mother’s childhood and musicianship, her meeting my father, the dysfunction, her coming out on the other side as an independent strong woman.
CB: What made you decide to participate in this conference?
RM: I was worried, at first, that what I read wouldn't be making enough of a statement in regards to the program, that it wouldn't be enough about race. But it doesn't have to be about race and ethnicity—we write just like anyone else.
CB: What are you excited about?
RM: The convergence of different ethnic groups coming together in Montana.