By Shabel Castro
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Lehman College featured a panel of international Latino writers at the Lovinger Theatre on October 11.
The event, “Writing Across Genres and Oceans: the Evolution of Fiction and Nonfiction Writing for English and Spanish-speaking Audiences,” was part of the “Festival De Palabras,” a literary festival which originated in Puerto Rico.
This is the second year the festival was brought to New York City, and the first time Lehman and Hostos Community College hosting it.
Lehman welcomed six writers, including Awilda Cáez, Julio Ricardo Varela, and Mayra Santos-Febres from Puerto Rico; Rosa Beltrán and Hilda Garcia from Mexico, and José Manuel Fajardo from Spain.
The event began with a formal introduction by Dr. Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Morrobel-Sosa emphasized how fitting it was for Lehman to be hosting this event due to the great Hispanic population on campus and observed that all of the pieces the writers were recognized for shared a common theme of migration and the Latino culture.
When the six writers came on stage and introduced themselves, the moderators, professors Teresita Levy and Daniel Fernandez, asked them to read from their most recent works.
“I don’t speak good English,” said José Manuel Fajardo with a smile before reading a short piece from one of his literary pieces to the audience.
When Fajardo, was asked why he wrote he explained how writing served as an escape for him.
“I grew up in a small neighborhood filled with migrants in Madrid. I did not like to live in an area so sad. Writing became my personal sport. I would look and dream of being in a different place.”
To the same question, Beltrán a novelist, said that for her writing is a source of strength.
“Imagination is the only thing that no one can take away from us. Words are power.”
Beltrán’s unique sense of imagination became apparent when she began to read from her novel “Supervivencia del más apto” (Survival Of The Fittest). The book examines marriage, relationships between men and women, and the lives of widows.
Varela said, “I write to record, to share stories. I write to give myself power. There is not much you can control in life. Writing is for freedom. It’s mine.”
Towards the end of the event, the writers encouraged the audience to find their own voices and to express themselves in whatever manner that felt most empowering.
The poet Santos-Febres summed up the writers shared belief that writing provides a platform for people to express their voice, especially for cultures that are underrepresented in literature.
“I started to think of all the books I wanted to read and have not been written, of people who told the stories I witnessed. I listened to all those stories and tried to find a place on paper where my voice belonged, ”she said.
“In literature there are a lot of silences, of voices you looked for and are not there. I found that voice.”