Sac State professor’s writing contest promotes Spanish language and shares personal stories

Julissa Félix-Gallegos nervously took the stage, the final speaker in an evening of poetry and spoken Spanish short stories. Trying not to look too hard at the 80 or so people in the audience, she began reading.

Houses with suelen blade technology will be very hot during the season”, reads Sacramento State graduate student Felix-Gallegos, “this is what is impossible for someone to reconcile the sueño.” Houses with tin roofs are usually very hot in summer, making it almost impossible to fall asleep.

A participant in the Voces competition in Sacramento reads her entry on the podium.
Julissa Félix-Gallegos, who won first place in the third annual Sacramento Voces competition for her short story “Chilendrina,” is a graduate student at Sacramento State. (Sacramento State/Christian Navarro)

The first line sets the scene for Félix-Gallegos’s short story, “Chilendrina,” about the death of a beloved family pet, inspired by his childhood in the small town of Mezquital del Oro, in the center of Mexico.

The story won first place in the third annual Sacramento State Voces Competition, a Spanish-language writing competition open to the public and hosted by Sacramento State assistant professor Brenda Romero. World languages ​​and literatures. Félix-Gallegos and other honorees were recognized and read their pieces during a ceremony Oct. 12 at the University Union.

The competition allows members of the Spanish-speaking community to share their stories and have their work published while promoting the written Spanish language.

The latter goal resonates with Romero, a native of Mexico, who admits that his two U.S.-born children’s ability to write in Spanish doesn’t exactly match their conversational skills.

“As a mother, I see that we do a really good job of trying to get our kids to speak Spanish, but there aren’t a lot of outlets where they can write,” she said. “This competition aims to increase the opportunities for the new generation to write in Spanish.”

Additionally, the pandemic hit Spanish-speaking communities particularly hard, Romero said, and she wanted to provide a platform for people to share their stories, struggles and dreams.

Romero was a doctoral student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City when an organization there launched a Spanish writing competition. With its significantly larger Spanish-speaking population, she thought Sacramento would welcome a similar competition.

Voces of Sacramento is open to everyone, from elementary school students to seniors. Submissions may be fiction or nonfiction, on any topic, and include short stories, poetry, and autobiographical essays. The challenges of growing up in a bicultural environment are a common theme among younger writers, while older writers often rely on nostalgia, such as stories about their childhood or hometown, Romero said.

The first competition, held in 2021 amid the pandemic, attracted a handful of mostly adult writers. The competition has since expanded, with 60 entries this year split roughly equally between younger and older authors.

Entries are judged in two categories: 17 and under and 18 and over. This year’s youngest submission was from a fourth grader, while its oldest writer was 90 years old. Submissions are judged by a panel of five Sac State faculty members. Submissions are stripped of author names to ensure objectivity. First, second and third place winners and honorable mentions are published in a free, free newspaper. downloadable e-book.

“It’s something that really encourages everyone to continue writing and know that their talent is being recognized and published,” Romero said. “It’s also a way to share all these stories with the community. It’s no good if they just live on my hard drive. We want people to read these poems, short stories, and autobiographical essays and learn about the people who live in our community.

As the competition grew, Romero reached out to local community organizations and elementary and middle schools. Among those is Center High School in Antelope, where Sac State alumna Ana Hernandez teaches Spanish.

Juan Miranda presents his honorable mention at the third annual Sacramento Voces competition on Oct. 12, alongside his daughter and event organizer Brenda Romero, a former Sacramento State assistant professor of world languages ​​and literatures. (Sacramento State/Christian Navarro)

Hernandez says writing was already an important part of her curriculum, and she encourages her students to submit their work to Voces of Sacramento. This year, five of his students did it and one of his colleague’s students took third place.

In addition to connecting with their culture and identity, Hernandez said, the opportunity to be recognized for their writing is especially important for students at low-income schools such as Center High, where graduation rates are low. are “not the best”.

“It’s very important that our students are recognized,” she said. “They’re excited, they’re working towards it, and even if they don’t believe in themselves (at first), in the end they’re like, ‘OK, I can do this,’ and that encourages more students. »

From Sac State, 10 students, one speaker and one staff member participated in this year’s competition, winning three honorable mentions in addition to Felix-Gallegos’ first-place award.

In the story of Félix-Gallegos, a boy wakes up to find his beloved dog, Chilindrina, outside and foaming at the mouth. Wanting to be seen as a man, he resists the urge to cry as the animal dies. That night, he dreams of his deceased grandmother as an angel who will take care of the dog in heaven.

Most of the story is true: Félix-Gallegos’s family dog ​​died of poisoning when she was a child, and she later learned that someone in the neighborhood had prepared rotten food to kill everyone. dogs. This grim problem is not uncommon in Mexico, she said, and she wanted to draw attention to it.

Felix-Gallegos, who earned his undergraduate degree in Spanish from Sac State in May, is working on a master’s degree in Spanish. She hopes to earn a doctorate and become a university professor. She said competitions like Voces de Sacramento can help break the myth that the Spanish language is less complex or less important than English.

Winning first place, she said, greatly boosted her self-confidence.

“Since I was young, I always wanted to be a writer, but then I thought: maybe I’m not good enough. If I write something, who will read it? said Felix-Gallegos. “Seeing how other people think of my writing, that it’s good, it helped me see that maybe I had potential, I just needed a little more practice.”

Download the Voces de Sacramento 2023 eBook at Voces de Sacramento website.

About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.


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