Award-winning writer speaks at GVSU

GVL / Sara Carte - Los Angeles Professor, Ruben Martinez, speaks about creative writing and reading in the Kirkhof Center on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte – Los Angeles Professor, Ruben Martinez, speaks about creative writing and reading in the Kirkhof Center on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.

Marissa LaPorte

Reflecting on his experiences as a child of immigrants, the experiences of other immigrants and speaking about his writings on the topic of immigration, Ruben Martinez, writer, performer, professor and Emmy-award winning journalist spoke to students about his career during his visit to Grand Valley State University on Feb. 24.

“I write because of who I am,” Martinez said. “I write because of where I come from, because of my surname, because of the color of my skin, because my mother is from El Salvador, because my dad was born on the border between the United States and Mexico, and because early on in my life I was surrounded by literary models, beginning with my mother.”

During his visit, Martinez gave a public lecture, instructed students during a craft talk on writing, and held a reading and book signing. The lecture was entitled “Browning Heartland: Transitional Communities and Imagination.” Martinez talked about his personal experiences while growing up in southern California and his many trips to Mexico and El Salvador, the representation of Latinos in art and Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Mexicans among other things focusing on issues of immigration and racism.

“I stand here before you today because of that interaction of history, and culture, and U.S. foreign policy and radical economic divides between rich and poor,” Martinez said. “Because as you can gather by Donald Trump’s campaign, immigration is a political issue and it has been practically since the founding of the republic and even before that. It’s an issue we’ve been discussing for a long time.”

Martinez focused on how immigrants aren’t so much different from everyday Americans in his lecture. He said immigrants are simply searching for a better life just as everyone else is.

“The migrant mantra was, is and always will be: searching for the better life. Which sounds like the mantra of the American dream, but really it’s not just the American dream. We’re not really the exception in that regard. Most of the world is trying to do the same thing, always looking for a better place, another country.”

Martinez isn’t an immigrant himself, but said growing up with his parents as immigrants and having those experiences has inspired him to represent immigrants in his public speeches as well as his writing. Through his experiences, Martinez said he has noticed that the life of an immigrant boils down to simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

“Ultimately, what I learned on the road with migrant families for many years, and what I know from my own family, is that if you’re able to move that means you’re optimistic,” Martinez said. “It’s an optimism born of crisis. It’s an optimism born of trauma. In other words, it’s a necessary kind of optimism or survival optimism if you will. But you still believe that you can get to somewhere better, and that is ultimately the migrant creed. In spite the fact that these journeys are of necessity.”

Oindrila Mukherjee, one of Martinez’s past students and the host of GVSU’s visiting writer’s series as well as a professor in the writing department, said she appreciated the importance in today’s society of the topics Martinez was discussing and his advice for helping students tackle them in their writing as well as in life.

“Students can read more widely and critically, and wrestle with the questions he raised in their own writing, instead of accepting default ideas passed down to them by the media or politicians,” Mukherjee said. “They can question stereotypes and simply be more aware of the world around them. It’s important to call out any rhetoric that does not acknowledge the complexity of any racial group. But Martinez’s talks were not just about race. They were also about class, about ethnicity, about immigrants, about foreignness. His ultimate message was — Open your doors to strangers. I think that’s something we can all aspire to do.”

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