Modern languages and literatures professor Gloria VelAsquez has been selected as San Luis Obispo’s eighth poet laureate.
“As an indigenous woman, a Dine Xicana, I am very proud to accept this award and to finally be recognized by the SLO community,” VelAsquez said.
As an internationally-known poet and fiction writer, she has published numerous works, including the Roosevelt High School Series which includes five novels about ethnically diverse adolescents. She has also published a collection of poetry called “I Used to be a Superwoman: Superwoman Chicana.”
VelAsquez’s passion for writing started at a very young age.
“Since I was a little girl, my aunt tells me that I was always writing simple little poems,” she said. “Also I date my writing back to my first guitar at the age of eight or nine.”
VelAsquez’ passion for music has also followed her through life. She recently released a CD of her own songs and poems called the “Superwoman Chicana CD.”
“My parents crossed the ‘invisible’ border to Juarez, Mexico and came back to Colorado with a small guitar for me. So I taught myself to play, writing my own songs.” VelAsquez said. “‘Son in Vietnam’ which is in the PBS documentary ‘Soldados: Chicanos in Vietnam,’ has been one of my most successful songs about my only brother who was killed in Vietnam.”
She was recognized at the San Luis Obispo City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18, where she read her poem “Black Shoes.” She said it is “one of my most published poems about the only pair of shoes that came back from Vietnam when my brother was killed.”
VelAsquez said she felt like the audience was touched by her reading.
“I dedicated the poem to Cindy Sheehan and all the mothers like my own who have lost and continue to lose sons and daughters in senseless wars,” she said. “As a performer, you can feel if your audience is moved or if you connect and I felt them respond to my words.”
Anthony Domingues, senior assistant director for admissions and recruitment, has known VelAsquez since 1985.
“Dr. VelAsquez brings to SLO an understanding and an articulation through her poetry of the culturally diverse human experience,” he said. “More importantly, through poetry she challenges us all to rethink who we are as humans.”
VelAsquez is from a small town in Colorado, where Domingues said she is the town heroine.
“You would never know it by the way she interacts with her hometown friends and family,” he said. “She is an extremely talented writer and performer, but one of those rare individuals who brings humility with her as part of her greatness.”
One of VelAsquez’s most prized accomplishments is being on a list of the 100 most important ethnic women (Oprah has also made the list).
She said: “This was very symbolic for me of my trajectory.”
VelAsquez is also archived at Stanford and will be in another PBS documentary called “La Raza de Colorado,” which airs in November.
For the future, VelAsquez said she hopes to continue to work for what she believes in.
Her goals are to “keep inspiring students and the world in the pursuit of truth, justice and equality. I was born a humanitarian above all,” she said. “As for my writing, I have several novels I’m working on, plus a children’s CD of bilingual music.”
Velasquez will be giving a reading on Nov. 13 at the San Luis Obispo Art Center at 6:30 p.m.